The Bong: A Long & Smoky History

The Bong: A Long & Smoky History

Have you ever stopped to think, in between deep inhalations of smooth, filtered smoke, the cultural and historical significance of the glorious bong you’re holding in your hands?

There are probably many questions you consider when using a bong, like whether we’re alone in the universe or whether caterpillars actually know if they’ll someday be butterflies. All valid questions.

But, before there were online head shops, before there was the Internet, long before there was even indoor plumbing, there was the bong. That’s right – the bong has been around since as early as 400 B.C. Below you’ll find a thorough history on how your favorite pipe came to wind up in your hands!

This post has been updated from its original version posted on July 11th, 2017.

Bongs Today

These days, there are hundreds of bongs to choose from to suit your every need. Gone are the days when we have to fashion our own primitive pipe from whatever materials we have lying around. We’re also witnessing the rise of electronic smoke or vapor inhalation.

Glass remains the most popular material for bong production, and generally produces the best results. Silicone pipes have also been introduced to the market to mix things up in the world of modern pipe manufacturing.

Some pipe makers have taken inspiration from the days of the Qing dynasty and began experimenting with using metals to produce bongs. It’s even possible that gold bongs might come into fashion for the very first time in 2,400 years.

rainbow bongs

The 60’s & 70’s

In the 19th century, glass became the most popular material used to manufacture bongs. After that, the bong resurfaces in history in the 60’s. The world was experiencing a cultural revolution, and the “free love” hippie generation was born.

During this time, Bob Snodgrass an American lamp worker, revolutionized the art of bong manufacturing. Snodgrass invented the fuming technique that we still use to this day that gives pipes their distinctive color patterns. If the bong you’re using is a gorgeous, glass work of art, you have Bob Snodgrass to thank for that.

Groovy smoking lamp bong

The Ming Dynasty

In the latter half of the 16th century, the use of bongs was introduced into China during the late Ming dynasty, through Persian trade and the Silk Road. The Silk Road was a vast network of trade routes throughout eastern Asia that connected all of the major trade hubs. Bongs, tobacco and opium were transported along these routes.

Once the Qing dynasty, the last imperial dynasty of China, arrived in 1636, the bong exploded in popularity and became the most popular way to smoke. Even Empress Dowager Cixi, who controlled the Chinese government for 47 years, used a bong when it had recently come to be viewed as a commoner’s item. She was even buried with a whole bunch of her favorite bongs.

Throughout the Qing dynasty when the bong exploded in global popularity, it was divided into two different kinds. Homemade bamboo pipes were fashioned and used by country folk. Elegant, opulent metal models were created and used by the city-dwelling population and Chinese royalty. These were made from bronze, silver or brass.

Africa, Asia & Iran, 1,100-1,400 A.D.

Around 1100-1400 A.D. water pipes and hookahs, early forerunners of the bong, were used in disparate parts of Africa, Central Asia and Iran. It wasn’t until the 16th century these water pipes were given the name “buang,” the Thai word describing the bamboo pipes that were fashioned in Thailand to smoke tobacco and herbs.

Phoebe water pipe - yellow vase

Earliest Recorded Use of a Bong

About 2,400 years ago, was the earliest recorded time period in which the bong was used. Scythian tribal chiefs who dwelt in what is now modern-day Russia fashioned bongs out of solid gold. The excavation of a kurgan (burial mound) in Russia in 2013 uncovered hundreds of ancient gold bongs when a construction crew was clearing the land to install new power lines. The bongs had been used to smoke cannabis and opium, and were most likely introduced into tribal ceremonies of some kind.


Bongs certainly have come a very long way since being used by ancient Scythian tribes. These days the bong industry reaches $1 billion a year. Whatever kind of bong you need, online head shops are a modern way to meet your needs, and at Toker Supply, we have every conceivable bong under the sun to choose from.

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