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The History of Bongs

Bongs: From 400 BC to Today

A stoner without a bong is like fries without salt, space without stars, Cheech without Chong: mostly unheard of. 

In contemporary times, it’s easy to take bongs for granted: they’ve been around since before our grandparents chiefed down, after all. Nevertheless, they’ve come a long way since their invention. No longer just an enclosed tube with water, bongs have come to represent more than just a smoking device. Instead, these water pipes more often represent a notable glass piece in a smoker’s collection: bongs come in an unimaginable combination of shapes, sizes, colors, and designs. 

Before all the ice catchers and percolators, however, bongs served the smoker community for centuries. Read on to learn more about the invention of bongs and how they got to be the gorgeous glass pieces they are today. 

A brief history of the bong in Asia

Though the first bongs date back to Russia and Africa, bongs have a meaningful history in Asia. 

This long history dates back all the way to the 16th century: the first written record of bong use comes from Central Asia during that time period. In fact, one theory credits the Ming Dynasty in China for the use of water in bongs.

One vital component of the widespread use of bongs comes from the Silk Road. In the 1400s, bong use began to spread via this Silk Road, happening alongside the invention of smoking dry herb. Particularly, as tobacco became more of an influential cash crop, the use of bongs began to flourish. This happenstance occurred simultaneously with the flourishing of the glass industry, leading to the serendipitous invention of the glass bong. 

Who invented bongs?

Though the actual advent of bongs is a little cloudy, it’s safe to say that many cultures contributed to its invention. The ritual of smoking dry herb dates back to Africa and Central Asia. 

And though the earliest proof of bong use extends all the way back to 400 B.C., before this discovery, the earliest known bongs were found in Ethiopian graves from around 1400 C.E. Of the eleven bongs found in these Ethiopian graves, a handful extended below the ground. Researchers speculate that this method cools down and filters smoke even further. 

Essentially, ancient bongs were made from ducts and bottles made out of animal horns and basic pottery. Though one theory credits Ancient China with the invention of the water pipe, ancient Ethiopian pipes resemble what is referred to contemporarily as the “gravity bong.”

How old is the first bong?

As we mentioned earlier, the first written use of bongs dates back to the 16th century. However, it seems that bongs first made their appearance long before that. 

Prior to 2013, as noted above, it was customarily believed that bongs were first used in Africa in the 1100s. 

Recent excavations in Russia changed our understanding of the history of the bong, however. One such excavation led to the discovery of a 2,400-year-old kurgan--or a Scythian burial mound--in modern-day southern Russia. In this burial mound were two golden bongs. 

After research and testing, archaeologists discovered that these two solid gold bongs date back to around 400 BC, centuries before the earliest bongs were thought to be invented. These ancient bongs also contained ancient residue: the residue tested positive for both cannabis and opium. 

Why are bongs called bongs?

The word bong comes from the Thai word “buong.” This word dates back to around the 14th century. “Buong” refers to a tube, typically constructed out of bamboo, used to smoke cannabis or tobacco. One theory posits that the Thai word may come from the Bong’om tribe in Africa. 

Nevertheless, the earliest use of the English word “bong” dates back to 1944. It appeared in a Thai-English dictionary and was first used by American physician George Bradley McFarland.

When were glass bongs invented?

Though bongs are ancient instruments made from horns, bamboo, and other natural substances, glass bongs are undoubtedly, the most popular modern-day option. 

With the increasing popularity of tobacco as a cash crop following the colonization of America, bongs boomed in popularity. Simultaneously, the glass industry was also booming: the glass lampshade had just been invented in the 19th century, after all, making a huge impact on the industry. These two industries collided with the invention of the glass bong in the 1960s and 70s. 

Glass bongs came into popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, guided into the mainstream by Bob Snodgrass. Snodgrass is considered to be the godfather of the glass bong movement, having designed glass bongs across the country while following the Grateful Dead on tour. But Snodgrass is more than just a Dead Head: he also discovered the process of fuming or the use of gold and silver to color borosilicate glass. 

Snodgrass took on students, and the modern-day glass revolution began. Now, glass outshines ceramic, silicone, and acrylic as the most popular material that bongs are made out of. 

To sum it up

Bongs are fan favorites for a reason. These water pipes have come a long way, from the solid gold bongs of the Scythian burial mound to the glass bongs of Snodgrass’s era.  

When smoking out of a bong, you’re participating in centuries of history. Consider being a part of this history by sparking up with Vessel’s Carbon, an inverted lighter designed to make lighting up all the more streamlined. 

The Carbon’s refillable inverted design makes sparking up your bong especially easier. The angled flame port makes for ease of use, whether right side up or upside down. Compact and aesthetically pleasing, the Carbon is more than a lighter: it’s a functional work of art. 

Furthermore, bongs have stood the test of time for a reason: now, bongs can be customized for the ultimate smoking experience. With the addition of percolators, ice catchers, and other glass-related accessories, your smoking experience can be cooler, purer, and tastier than ever.