Someone wise once said that, ‘Every once in a while, a new technology, an old problem, and a big idea turn into an innovation.’
Today these words couldn’t be truer.
Back in 1968, hand pipes were crude. Most of them were forged from brass lamp fittings or carved from stone and took a fair amount of effort to clean and maintain. Screens would get clogged with resin and tar a lot sooner than one would like. Not to mention that the design was absolutely bare bones with no bells or whistles.
Refills had to be carried separately for frequent users. Car keys doubled up as pokers. That’s when Phil Jergenson had the idea that would change his life and that of millions of smokers around the world.
His passion for innovative designs and his experience as a draftsman translated into one of the best hand pipe designs of all times, the Proto Pipe.
If you are curious about the origins of the Proto Pipe and its fancier, more recent sibling, the Mendo Pipe, then read on.
Phil & His Eureka Moment
Phil, all of 20 years young at the time, was working at an architectural firm at the time, spending the majority of his days earning his stripes in the profession. But he loved his machines and he was an artist at heart. His passion for machinery and eye for design would (unbeknownst to him at the time) lead to great things.
The spark of genius came when he got his first taste of pure Kush, which he appropriately referred to as ‘Heaven’. As much as he loved the Euphoria that he was able to achieve with Cannabis, he hated the smoking apparatus that he had to deal with every day.
What was a rudimentary pipe to most, was an opportunity for innovation to this inventor.
Once this “Eureka moment” happened, the artist in Phil set to work. But first, he needed the tools to help convert the idea into reality. He acquired the ‘Unimat’, a tabletop machine that could drill, sand, cut and came at a steep price of $500.
Almost immediately, he started working on prototypes for his new pipe design. After one month of trial and error, Phil was ready with the first iteration of the Proto Pipe.
Only, it wasn’t named so. Phil called it ‘The Pipe Dream 1.0’.
Taking the Pipe Dream Places
When Phil was ready with his first design, he distributed a few copies to his close friends and got phenomenal feedback. He knew that he had a winner on his hands. Something that addressed the common problems that tokers faced with existing pipes.
The world was transforming. Phil sensed that it was only a matter of time before Marijuana became legal. And his new pipe had to be marketed.
Back then, the counterculture mag ‘Whole Earth Catalog’ was akin to the internet of today. It was crammed with innovative ideas and talked about self-sufficiency and ecology. California was the hub of radical thinkers. Phil knew that he had to set up base in Cali if he intended to bring his new design to the rest of the world.
The Smoking Contrivance
Phil named his new pipe design ‘The Smoking Contrivance’ and armed with his new design, he ventured into San Francisco. In San Francisco, he spent a year trying to learn how to scale up his operation and have consistent production.
But he was an artist after all. Not a businessman. He failed miserably. In order to support himself, he took up a job as a carpenter and from the money he earned, he placed an ad in ‘The Rolling Stones’ Mag in 1972 that would cost him $200.
Quite a gamble for someone who was working as a carpenter. A month later, he only received a handful of orders and was dejected at the failure of his seemingly bright idea.
Only, it wasn’t a failure.
A few months later, he received a call from his brother Kent who sounded over the moon. Phil’s mailbox was stuffed to the brim with orders for Contrivance.
But he had a lot of commitments to adhere to in his job as a Carpenter. He worked on weekends to fulfill the orders.
A year later, he was making pipes full time.
The Contrivance becomes the Tomato
Phil and his brother Richard were now working together on the Contrivance, when one day, they were approached by an investor who wanted to market their idea. They were sold. But the man stole their idea, relabeled the pipe as ‘The Tomato’ and sold it in tin cans.
It was around this time, that Phil renamed the Contrivance as ‘The Proto Pipe’, borrowed from the way a friend misspelled the word ‘Prototype’.
Regan’s war on drugs
The Proto Pipe was growing fast. The operations were now being run from a 25,000 sq. ft warehouse in Willits.
But Regan had unleashed a full-scale war on drugs. Things weren’t hunky dory anymore. The authorities were haggling Phil and Richard. Their phones were being tapped.
They decided that it was enough and sold the company to a close friend with a condition that if Marijuana were to be legalized, they would be let in again.
A few years later, as the internet era took over, the friend failed to capitalize and adapt to the changing times. The Proto Pipe became obsolete and faded away into oblivion.
The Mendo Pipe
Despite selling the company, Phil continued to work on improving his design. That’s when he came up with Proto Pipe 2.0, with a markedly improved design, a new tar catchment area and a filter that doesn’t get clogged as frequently.
He called it the Mendo Pipe and it is one of the bestselling pipes in the world today.
As the Proto Pipe business crashed, Phil decided to step in and took charge of operations recently. The business that he had set up from scratch, driven by passion was run to the ground by an inefficient and confused owner. He resumed operations at the old warehouse that was in ruins.
But with the old team back at the helm, good things are happening. There are newer patents. Phil and his team live off-the-grid in the country and work constantly to improve the way you smoke cannabis. Nowadays glass hand pipes have taken over, as well as chillums. Shop our full collection here.
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