Before the 15th century A.D. mankind had been using pipes of various mediums for medicinal and religious purposes. In the New World, the civilizations of the Aztecs, Mayans, Toltec, and other Native American cultures utilized pipes to heal various maladies as well as to commemorate religious and commercial events. In Africa, various cultures would sniff or inhale through tubes various herbs also for medicinal or religious purposes and recent archaeological evidence has surfaced to indicate that the Egyptians used some sort of tobacco for mummification purposes. In any event, the first culture to couple tobacco with a pipe-like device for smoking must have been the Mayans of Mexico and Central America.
During the Western settlement of the New World, various explorers would encounter natives smoking pipes. In 1519 Cortez reported finding tribes in Mexico smoking from “perfumed reeds”. In 1536, the French explorer Jacques Cartier reported native Canadians in the North West using pipe smoking in various ceremonies. In 1559, Spain first imported tobacco to the Old World for use as medicinal herbs. Ironically, the smoke was thought to be good for the lungs when inhaled!
The use of tobacco soon became wide spread in Europe. Jean Nicot, the French Ambassador to Portugal, used powdered tobacco leaves to cure many maladies including migraines and minor aches and pains and was honored by having the tobacco plant christened “Nicotiana Tobacum” after his name. During this time men of the lower classes began using tobacco in clay pipes for pleasure but it was Sir Walter Raleigh who introduced pipe smoking as pleasure to the court of Queen Elizabeth in 1590. Although Raleigh had learned about pipe smoking from Ralph Lane, the first Governor of Virginia, he soon made pipe smoking fashionable to the British Aristocracy and England began making pipes. By 1602 pipe smoking had spread over Europe and into India, China, and Japan.
King James of England began in 1603 a fierce anti-smoking campaign that eventually led to the execution on October 28, 1618 of Sir Walter Raleigh whose last act was to smoke a pipe full of tobacco. One year later he relented his stances and signed the charter incorporating all British pipe makers but with heavy regulation. In 1633 King James required all tobacconists to be licensed and although it was intended to be punishment through taxation, this move finally established the profession. Although much of the world began to attack smoking, public opinion won out and countries began to profit instead of prohibit.
Soon pipe smoking was accepted all over Christendom. In 1724 Pope Benedict XIII absolved all users of tobacco from any wrongdoing. Although snuff began to replace pipes in Europe, pipe smoking was kept alive in the newly born United States. During the Victorian Era, pipe smoking began flourishing in Europe and although no longer a social endeavor due to the strict smoking regulations, pipes began to be associated with private contemplation beside the fireplace. Cigars continued to be a social pastime while pipes were more private and personal. By World War II pipes were associated with officers, philosophers, and other thinkers while cigarettes were for the masses.
Today pipe smoking still has those influences but is gaining popularity from cigar enthusiasts as they begin to realize that pipe smoking offers similar pleasure at a much lower price. Although the late 1970’s to mid 1980’s is often called the Golden Age of Pipes, smokers are beginning to gravitate away from cigarettes and once again discover the true pleasure of pipe smoking. Even though it is estimated that only 2% of all smokers have smoked a pipe, pipe sales continue to rise and the future is looking bright!