Bong History 101

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Glass jars filled with medical marijuana in a row with loose marijuana, glass bong, and joint on a bamboo table with black background in portrait

Hey, stoners—might as well learn something while chortling. Those bubbles you’re percolating your weed through? The word “bong” comes from the Thai word “buang,” which refers to the early bamboo water bongs introduced during China’s Ming Dynasty and spreading throughout Central Asia via the Silk Road.

While dry herbs used for smoking can be dated back to Asia and Africa, recent excavations in Russia show that chiefs of the Iranian-Eurasian Scyth tribe smoked out of golden bongs as far back as 2,400 years ago—the earliest-ever findings of bong use, pre-dating the 11 bongs crafted from ducts and bottles made out of animal horns and pottery that were found in an Ethiopian cave and used 900 years ago. 

The first written records of bong use come from Central Asia in the 16th century, with Chinese empress Dowager Cixi found buried with her three prized bongs during the Qing Dynasty. The bong industry reportedly flourished on the Silk Road for many centuries, and gravitated to the United States as tobacco use became more prominent as Europeans settled North America. Most recently, the boom peaked in the 20th century, with the glass bong renaissance of the 1960s and ‘70s.  

The father of the movement? A one Bob Snodgras, who designed glass bongs across the country while following the Grateful Dead. Eventually settling in Eugene, Oregon, his bong-building student, Hugh Selkind, was also a big promoter of percolation. In the ‘90s, Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong fame jumped on the bong bandwagon, peddling bongs of his own namesake. The business, estimated to be worth nearly $1 billion a year, blossomed until 2003, when the U.S. government funded a campaign to ban bong sales, shutting down some 55 “specialty” retailers. But with marijuana’s recent legalization in certain states, it’s since bubbled its way back to the surface as paraphernalia for party-goers. And now you know the rest of the story…