Bongs. Just the utterance of the word conjures slow-motion images of exhaling huge clouds and memories of laughter and good times with even better friends. These hand-crafted unique works of borosilicate artistry have captivated and enhanced human creativity for thousands of years. In more recent decades, water pipes, bubblers, or whatever you choose to call them have been going through some pretty drastic changes in both design and functionality. We here at Brothers With Glass pride ourselves on keeping up to date with the industry’s rapidly changing trends and advancements and steadily offering our customers only the best options for new bongs, bubblers, and water pipes. We work with reputable companies like HVY Glass, 2K Glass Art, ZOB Glass, and C2 Custom Creations to make sure that your smoking experience is always one you can look back on fondly. Read on for some insights into where these chalices of Cheeba come from, why we use them, and the long, arduous journey they made over thousands of years and miles to land on your coffee table!
Early water-filtered pipes were a far cry from the masterfully crafted, multi-chamber, percolation-heavy beasts that we know and love today. No bubble stacks or perfectly clear glass for that quintessential Instagram post of you snapping full bowls by the river. In fact, to post a hit from the oldest bong known to man, its creator would have needed a time machine to travel over two thousand years into the future. That’s right, the oldest bong ever found on Earth is over 2,400 years old and it wasn’t made out of glass. It was made out of… wait for it… GOLD! That’s right, the oldest water pipe known to man was made from solid gold and is believed to have been used by the Chiefs of Iranian-Eurasian tribes in what we now call Russia. They were originally used to smoke opium, and yes, cannabis too. Can you imagine taking a hit from a solid gold piece? Those things must have been insanely heavy, but hey, at least it wouldn’t break if you dropped it! There’s always a silver lining. See what we did there?
Speaking of breaking (or preferably not breaking), let’s get into glass and how it worked its way into the world of bongs, water pipes, and bubblers. Believe it or not, glass is not a human invention. In fact, it wasn’t “invented” at all, unless you count the world’s many active volcanoes as “inventors”, that is. That’s right, obsidian is a naturally occurring form of black volcanic glass. People have been finding and using it to shape weapons, jewelry, and many other things for thousands of years. However, the first examples of people creating glass come from coastal Mesopotamia right around the year 2000 BCE. They used the glass they made to form tools and beads that they would wear as jewelry. Advancements in glassblowing continued, and in Ancient Rome, many of the techniques that inspired modern glassblowers were invented and popularized.
While the earliest example of a bong (that we know of) was over 2,400 years old, before this discovery they had previously been discovered and dated back about 1,300 years. Many of these were found inside caves and were actually built deep into the ground for a more intense cooling effect. While it is undeniable that bongs have a long and storied past, you may be asking yourself why we call them bongs today. Many people assume that the term “bong” is a fairly recent development. However, this word actually comes from the Thai word “buang” which was used to reference older, central Asian bamboo water pipes. It is believed that the introduction of water to pipes began in the Ming Dynasty in China. There was even a Chinese dignitary that was found buried with three different bongs. Now that’s a sendoff we can get behind!
The popularity of water filtration grew as tobacco cemented itself as a global cash crop and people all over the world were looking for new, cooler ways to enjoy their smoking experience. Pun intended. However, it is hard to find evidence of a culture that participated in tobacco consumption without also finding traces of other, greener substances being used as well. During this time of cultural explosion in desire for early water pipes, the glass industry was also experiencing a period of rapid growth and development. Some older glassblowing techniques, many thought to have been long lost to the bittersweet mistress of time, had suddenly made a comeback. The two booming industries were about to cross paths in a fateful meeting outside a Grateful Dead concert in the 1970s. A man named Bob Snodgrass had been following the Grateful Dead on tour and making glass pipes to sell to Dead Heads across the nation to smoke their herb. He quickly made a name for himself as the inventor of modern glass pipe making and is credited with first developing many of the techniques still commonly used in glassblowing today.
Snodgrass continues to blow glass and is still a prominent worker and creator in the field of lampworking today. His pieces are collected and cherished by many lifelong fans of his work. Many of these fans, one in particular named Cameron Tower, made a pilgrimage to Eugene, Oregon to learn from the legend Bob Snodgrass himself. According to Tower, Snodgrass was already working on a prototype for a glass water pipe when he arrived. However, he wasn’t happy with the awkward design of the piece, so it hadn’t been finished yet. Tower decided to take that idea and run with it. Soon thereafter he had created a single piece, a watertight glass pipe with a fused bowl and down stem. It slightly resembled a hammer, and wasn’t at all a pretty piece, but it worked. Over another year or so, Tower and some glassblower friends of his tweaked the design and eventually landed on the classic bong shape that we know and love today. What is essentially a straight glass tube, extending from a larger glass bubble filled with water into which a fused down stem rests, with a bowl for your herb at the top. Simple, elegant, perfection.
Flash forward forty years or so and glass bongs have definitely made some notable advancements since Cameron Tower first fused one together on that fateful day in history. From their physical design to their size, to the intricacies in their percolation systems and ornamental features, some look nothing like the original design at all. For example, take Empire Glassworks. Their unique style of craftsmanship expertly disguises your water pipe, bubbler, or dab rig into any number of awesome foods, animals, objects, all made out of glass and fully functional. Like donuts? How about pandas romping through the forest? Maybe you’re one of those people that puts sriracha on everything. Not to worry, Empire Glassworks has a piece made just for you!
Percolation more your thing? Well, you’re not alone. In fact, some of the most significant advancements in the creation of bongs have been in the realm of percolation. So, what exactly is a percolator? First thing first, we’re not talking about the Curtis Jones song from 1991. We know it’s a jam. Basically, percolation is the bubble action in the water of the main chamber. The idea is to get more bubbles, and smaller ones, so that the smoke can more effectively be cooled by the water on its journey from the bowl to your lungs. The more bubbles, or diffusion, the cooler your hit will be and the bigger hit you can take. In theory, of course. We’re not making any promises. Early percolators were pretty much just a small tube with a big hole on the end that stuck down into the water chamber. These days, while you may still find early versions like that around if you look hard enough, most are made with intricate, complicated, multi-hole, percolators to ensure maximum diffusion and guarantee smooth hits every time.
It’s possible that none of this has been news to you, and you’re sitting there in front of your computer or phone going “I get it, I get it. They’ve carved an interesting path through history, but what does the future hold for enthusiasts like me?” Fair enough. Let’s look at some of the current trends and do a bit of speculation on what that may mean in the future. First, a new trend emerging in the world of bongs is silicone or 3D printed pieces. These are cheap, as they can be printed or molded from materials easier to work with than glass. They are also much more durable, with some brands like No Label Silicone making pieces that, aside from the removable glass bowl, are pretty much indestructible. Other trends we’re paying close attention to are ergonomically designed, multifunctional, customizable pieces, as well as the newer automatic electric ignition types. There are even water pipes out there now with a built-in industrial laser used to light the bowl. It’s safe to say the future of these pieces is constantly evolving, but one thing remains the same. Humans have a long and deeply meaningful relationship with them that likely isn’t ending anytime soon.