Humanity had to come a long way to get from the wheel to the percolator bong. Where did the tools and the terminology all come from? Glass, as we know, can be found naturally around volcanoes as obsidian created from cooling lava. But historians suggest that the first glass that was created and used for tools comes from coastal Mesopotamia around 2500-1500 BCE. The Mesopotamian people used the glass to create beads, mostly blue in color but ranging up to white or yellow, used for jewelry and accessories.
The Beginnings of Glass
The techniques used in glassblowing continued to advance up into the Hellenistic Period of Ancient Rome. The Ancient Romans used distinctive mosaic techniques, what we now call “millefiori,” to create unique patterns for pottery and beads. The millefiori technique was completely lost by the 18th century, but found a resurrection in the 19th century. Millefiori is Italian for “thousand flowers,” and led to the popular implosion-style marbles that are popular on bongs today.
The First Bongs
Dry herbs used for smoking can be dated back to Central Asia and Africa. However, recent excavations in Russia show that the tribal chiefs of the Iranian-Eurasian Scyth tribe once smoked out of golden bongs about 2400 years ago. This is the earliest findings of ancient bong use. Before the Scythian bongs were excavated, the earliest known bongs were found in an Ethiopian cave, and were dated between 1100 and 1400 CE. 11 bongs were found in the cave, and many extended underground to create a cooling system. These bongs used ducts and bottles that were made out of animal horns and primitive pottery.
The Silk Road and Bongs in Central Asia
The first written records of bong usage come from Central Asia in the 16th century. The word “bong” comes from the Thai word, “buang,” which specifically referred to the bamboo bongs that were common in Central Asia. It is theorized that the use of water in bongs was introduced during the Ming Dynasty in China, which spread via the Silk Road. One Chinese regent, Empress Dowager Cixi, was even found buried with her three prized bongs during the Qing Dynasty.
The Bong Industry Grows
The bong industry flourished on the Silk Road for many centuries, especially as tobacco became a cash crop following the European settlement in America. The glass industry flourished too, especially with the popularity of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s glass lamp shades in the 19th century. But the real industry boom culminated in the 20th century, with the glass bong renaissance of the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Bob Snodgras was the godfather of the movement, as he designed glass bongs across the country while following a Grateful Dead tour. Snodgras settled in Eugene, Oregon and took a student, Hugh Selkind. It was in Eugene where Snodgrass discovered fuming—the process that uses gold and silver to color borosilicate glass. And so the modern glass revival began with bongs at the forefront, and Snodgrass’s students multiplied. By the late ‘90s, even Tommy Chong jumped on the bong boat as he began to brand and sell bongs of his own namesake. Headshops proliferated in New York and Los Angeles, and then spread across the country.
Conservative Government Interference
The bong industry seemed golden until around 2003, when the US Government spent nearly 12 million dollars to fund an overzealous campaign to completely ban bong sales, which they saw as drug paraphernalia. 55 retailers where shut down and most ‘Chong Bongs” sold by Tommy Chong were confiscated. Online vendors, which exploded with the advent of the Internet, were promptly shut down.
At the time, the industry was estimated to be worth nearly $1 billion a year.
Social Acceptance & Changes
Headshops that sell bongs for legal dry herb, concentrate, and tobacco use still populate the country today, and the industry has reached an all-time boom. The bongs available on Smoke Cartel are strictly for legal and tobacco use, just as the badass Dowager Empress Cixi smoked, Qing Dynasty-style.
You can shop through our collection of bongs and glass water pipes to find the best bong for all of your bonging needs, and you won’t need an underground duct to get those sweet, smooth hits. That’s the power of human progress.
The Future of Bongs
Now there is an explosion of innovation and design in the glass bong industry, and new bongs are popping up every season. Some consumers are shifting towards silicone bongs (for their durable, foldable, and shatter-proof material) and some folks are moving towards specially designed dab rigs (or bongs designed specifically for dabs, waxes, and oils).