The History Of Brigham Pipes

The origins of Brigham pipes can be traced back to the early 1900s when its founder Roy Brigham was employed as a part-time employee at a Toronto tobacco shop. Roy was hired by the shop's owner, Andrew Wilson, and soon after, the pipe portion of Wilson's business grew significantly, prompting him to hire an Austrian pipe maker to perform repairs and craft pipes for him. Eventually, Wilson offered Brigham the opportunity to apprentice under the Austrian pipe maker, whose name was unfortunately lost over the course of history but nonetheless remains a significant figure in Brigham's history.

Roy studied and worked alongside the Austrian craftsman for several years, developing an interest in pipes and in learning what elements had room for improvement. One day, Wilson picked up a pipe repaired by the Austrian and praised his work, but Roy felt he could do a better job, prompting Brigham to take it back to his home workshop. He brought it back the following day to show Wilson, who was impressed and acknowledged that Brigham outperformed the Austrian pipe maker. Mike Brigham, Roy's grandson and current owner of the company, recounted in a 2004 interview with Pipes and Tobaccos magazine that Wilson reportedly found the Austrian was temperamental and difficult to work with, so Wilson let him go and helped Roy establish his own business specializing in selling tobacco products and repairing pipes.

Roy Brigham

Roy Brigham, 1906 (sourced from

Brigham's first store opened in 1906 in downtown Toronto on Adelaide Street and though the first few years were difficult, its location within the rapidly growing city exposed it to patronage from the nearby theater and business districts. Roy's pipe repair service was in high demand, and as a result, he began offering pipes made by himself and five other craftsmen which became popular across Canada for their quality and value. In the years following its establishment, Brigham's store became a popular destination for smokers and allowed Roy to speculate in the local real estate market.

Brigham's first store opened in 1906 in downtown Toronto on Adelaide Street and though the first few years were difficult, its location within the rapidly growing city exposed it to patronage from the nearby theater and business districts.

While things were beginning to look up for Roy and the young business, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression forced Brigham to consolidate his assets, selling all of the businesses he owned except for his shop. It was during this bleak period that Roy's son, Herb, left high school to help his father run the store in 1935, and together the father and son team searched for ways to improve the brand's pipes.

Roy and Herb observed that the biggest complaint from pipe smokers was the unpleasant sensation of tongue bite. Mike Brigham recalled, "My grandfather strongly suspected that the heat sensation was not the results of thermal heat, but rather it was a chemical irritation of the tongue. He knew that if he could eliminate tongue bite, he would be able to keep people interested in smoking and improve sales."

The Rock Maple Insert, or the Brigham Distillator System as it's sometimes called, became a viable method to reducing tongue bite and remains one of the most enduring aspects of Brigham pipes.

In an interview with Pipes and tobaccos magazine Brigham's current President Dan More likened the process to Thomas Edison's search for filament material for the light bulb, saying "He sent for materials from all over the world, and Roy and Herb did the same thing. They tried cork, bamboo, rice plants, and all manner of hollow reeds. They wanted to find a filter that would cleanse the smoke without impeding its flow through the pipe."

It was determined that the two most suitable materials that fit their criteria were bamboo and rock maple, but since bamboo wasn't readily available in Canada, rock maple became the chosen medium. The Brighams recognized that rock maple not only possessed the necessary absorbency to help reduce tongue bite but is inherently flavor-neutral and won't impart any flavors to the tobacco being smoked.

The Rock Maple Insert, or the Brigham Distillator System as it's sometimes called, became a viable method to reducing tongue bite and remains one of the most enduring aspects of Brigham pipes. To protect their invention, the Brighams patented the Brigham System in the United States and Canada in 1938. It's subsequently been renewed with the only significant change being how the filter is locked into the pipe.

The actual engineering of the Rock Maple Insert is impressively simple and straightforward. A rock maple dowel is drilled with a 3.5mm airway and pressure-fitted with a special metal cap that allows it to fit securely within the pipe while also being easily removable. The dowel is able to take the smoke from the bowl and pass it through the shank and a large section of the stem, removing moisture and unpleasant flavors that develop during the smoking process. No chemicals or adhesives are used to manufacture the rock maple inserts, ensuring it remains flavor-neutral. And because of the drilling, a rock maple insert is able to pass a pipe cleaner, even while the pipe is still assembled. The insert's design also helps prevent moisture from traveling back into the bowl or up the stem, helping to reduce pipe gurgle in the process.

With proper care, a single rock maple distillator can be used for up to 40 smokes, but can be changed at any time based on personal preference and usage. To extend the life of a single insert it's recommended that it be removed from the pipe, after it's had time to cool down, and rinse the rock maple with water to wash off the impurities collected within the dowel. Once it becomes a darker shade of brown, that's usually the indication that it has become saturated and that a new insert is needed.

The Rock Maple Distillator system is still a major focus for the company, according to Brigham President Dan More, who emphasizes that it's not actually a filter, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. "It's a piece of rock maple with a straight hole without any filtration or blockage which allows the smoke to travel unimpeded," More explains, "and collects the tars, and wicks away moisture to provide a cooler, drier smoke. It's something we still strongly believe in. We compare it to the Hemi engine: you can put it in any number of different vehicles and it'll work just as well."

Thanks to the development and implementation of the Rock Maple Inserts, Brigham's pipe sales increased dramatically from the 1940s to the '60s. By the 1960s, Brigham Enterprises employed over 40 full time production workers and were creating 50,000 pipes each year. The craftspeople worked at various specialized stations that involved bowl turning, drilling, sanding, finishing, and producing rock maple inserts. To satisfy the increased demand, Brigham moved into a new factory on Ripley Avenue in 1970, making over 100,000 pipes a year, with two retail stores in downtown Toronto to sell their products. Brigham pipes were also sold through exclusive retailers, numbering around 650 across Canada and were featured in the annual Simpsons-Sears catalogue.

In 1978, Herb's son Mike joined the family business and helped expand the company's product line to include pipe tobacco and accessories. The following years saw the company adapt to new technology that was at the time state-of-the-art, utilizing machines that could improve quality of the Rock Maple Inserts, meet growing consumer demands, and reduce the unavoidable waste corresponding to hand-drilled dowels.

"Mike identified that the company was producing in excess of demand, and made some changes," says More. "He brought in a computer, which was a huge mainframe and could't even do as much as a calculator can today, but for the time it was quite innovative. Mike focused on efficiency and numbers."

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, overall interest in pipe smoking was fading as fast paced lifestyles were becoming the norm and the patient practice of enjoying a pipe was viewed as old-fashioned for contemporary culture. One group was particularly affected: Brigham's retailers, whom the company still relies heavily upon and works closely with to distribute their products.

"The industry was changing at that time" Dan said. "Retailers were looking for other ways to supplement their revenues because it wasn't coming from pipe and pipe tobacco sales, and this was before the cigar boom." Soon after joining the company in the late 1980s, More recognized the need for Brigham to adapt to the changing pipe smoking climate and to understand the primary interests of retailers and customers.

"I traveled all across Canada as the de facto sales representative, going to the shops and talking to retailers. I gathered all the information firsthand and it was a real educational experience for me," says More.

To reflect the widening business opportunities Brigham was experiencing, the company changed its name from "Brigham Pipes Ltd" to "Brigham Enterprises" and continued to expand their portfolio in the following years beyond just pipes and pipe tobacco in response to the information gathered, offering various humidors, cigar brands, pipe cleaners, and pipe tools to retailers and distributors. Economic conditions were also driving demand for lower pipe prices in the late '90s and as a result the actual production of Brigham pipes was moved to France and Italy. However, Brigham remains closely involved with quality oversight, with the designs, and with all of the microdetails involved with large scale pipe manufacturing.

We've built a community internally that's like a family and consider our retailer partners and our customers as part of that family — we're all in this together."
-Dan More

That production move also developed new opportunities for the company. "For instance, we didn't have a sandblasting machine, so for over 85 years we had never produced a sandblasted pipe," says More. "Now we're able to offer more interesting lines and continue to be innovative, which is a result of moving the pipe manufacturing while still remaining involved in the entire process."

Despite all of the company's changes throughout the years, Brigham's patented Rock Maple Inserts continue to be produced in Canada. In 2011, the company invested $150,000 dollars in a new Distillator machine that utilizes modern manufacturing techniques and effectively ensures that the company's most iconic and innovative product remains Canadian made. It's a testament to Brigham's ability to simultaneously adhere to tradition while continually improving their processes and products.

Dan More primarily credits the company's longevity to being a relatively small, family business that's remained family owned for over a century, as well as an impressive employee retention rate, with many employees having worked at Brigham for decades, including More himself, who has been with the company for over 30 years. "We've built a community internally that's like a family and consider our retailer partners and our customers as part of that family — we're all in this together."

It's truly impressive how a company that has endured so long and survived so many changes remains so humble and family oriented. The innovation and perseverance that went into inventing the Rock Maple Distillation System is exceptionally remarkable and was born out of the company's willingness to improve the pipe smoking experience for everyone. Brigham's dedication to quality and value is the company's guiding principle, and it has remained one of the reasons pipe smokers continue to enjoy Brigham pipes.

Category:   Pipe Line
Tagged in:   Brigham Filters History Interview Pipe Making


    • Old Timer... on March 27, 2020
    • Great read...Nicely done...I've never really paid much attention to Brigham pipes...I will take a closer look at them...

    • Old Timer... on March 27, 2020
    • Is that the Giant Sandblasted (1202) in the header pic? If not, anyone know the pipe in the pic?

    • Piper on March 29, 2020
    • I grew up in southern Ontario and started pipe smoking while in University in 1971. My first few pipes were Brighams and gave superb service well into the 2010s when I gifted the one I had left. Of course, as a student, I dutifully rinsed the rock maple inserts as long I possibly could before being forced to discard them. Eventually, I just smoke my Brighams sans insert, which was still delightful but, reading this excellent article, I now realize was unpatriotic. Brigham—may it long endure!

    • Bill Wright on March 29, 2020
    • Great article. Came to know of the Brigham pipes from and find the Sportsman Rod and Reel line to be my favorite.. I love to see the briar evolve the patina as I smoke my Lat-forward English blends. Sorta wish more "SRAR" shapes would be available, even knowing how they come to be.

    • KevinM on March 29, 2020
    • Brigham’s, in a sense, made its own headwind by producing “the same” pipe at several different price levels, the difference being briar quality and finish. While this approach may be disadvantageous to the company, it is a great advantage to the pipesmoker. I’d say the smoker looking for value ina good smoker will never go wrong by choosing a Brigham 🍁

    • Larry Severson on March 29, 2020
    • Liked the article.I have a Brigham Voyageur, a nd would like to add to my collection of pipes...Very good work!

    • John Ferguson on March 29, 2020
    • My very first pipe was a Brigham rusticated full bent egg. I believe it was a Voyager. I paid around forty eight dollars for the pipe. The pipe was a good smoker for a reasonable price. I enjoyed it with or without the rock maple filter. I will never forget how dry and cool a brand new filter made that pipe smoke. Without the filter one got a lot of tasty and enjoyable smoke. Because of the large opening, of course. Just don't lean to far back. Yuck! Great article! I Truly enjoy history!

    • Dallas Day on March 29, 2020
    • Nicely written article. We tend to romanticize "the good old days" when there was good demand, plenty of raw materials, and skilled craftsmen available to hire. However, the truth is that small businesses always struggle with something, and prices cannot be arbitrarily increased to accommodate temporary difficulties. Constant reshifting and adaptation to new circumstances was as necessary then as now, For those who can pull it off, and survive, it makes for interesting stories of entrepreneurship, and I think offers sound application principles for today's small business. Focus on providing for the customer can successfully lead to meeting the needs of the business, but it is never easy or a sure thing.

    • Jim on March 29, 2020
    • @Bill: Can you elaborate on what you meant by "... even knowing how they come to be?" Maybe I missed something when I read the article?

    • Astrocomical on March 29, 2020
    • Really? You can re-use the filter about 40x? I might try one in the future. But I don't see much people say it works.

    • Dave Sommer on March 29, 2020
    • Now I understand why my favorite Uncle was a Brigham pipe smoker. The apple hasn't fallen from the tree either.
      Since my first order of a Brigham I have been spoiled by them I'm sure that they will always be in my rotation!

    • Frank Palazzolo on March 29, 2020
    • Love reading the history of the brand's is pipes.

    • Jim on March 29, 2020
    • @Old Timer: I don't think the 1202 in the pic at the top of the article is the same one that's offered as Product Number: 002-491-2903. If you enlarge the two photos and compare them side by side, despite some similarities, the grain patterns don't match closely enough, in my humble opinion. But the two photos are taken at slightly different angles, so there's room for debate. Besides, if it were the same pipe, why wouldn't Smokingpipes just use the same photo?

    • Anthony Thomas Magarello on March 30, 2020
    • Brigham is a fine pipe [have 3] and not over-priced as others are. Much, however, is made of the insert, and unless I'm so old and my senses virtually inured, they do zero to improve taste, bite, etc.

    • Frank Bishop on March 30, 2020
    • At age 70, after nearly 55 years of pipe smoking, I finally bought a Brigham pipe a few weeks ago. Yeah, I know! Shame on me.

      But I have been using the Rock Maple inserts for many years. I have tailored them to fit in other pipes and I have delighted in how they do their job so well. Curious that Brigham and Savinelli (balsa inserts) both concluded that select wood enhanced the pipe smoking experience. I agree. I have never found a filter that performs better than wood. I definitely have more Brigham pipes in my future.

    • KevinM on March 31, 2020
    • Re: the Brigham Rock Maple Distillator/Filter — It seems these were created as an antidote to “bite.” They are especially effective for wicking out the tars and other smoking residue. Then they are just rinsed out in warm water and allowed to dry for reuse. I’ve never been able to see how often they can be rinsed and reused, because I get up to twenty or so and lose count. Helpful hint: after cleaning and drying a “distillator,” run through it a pipe cleaner dipped in a bit of whiskey 🥃

    • David Morefield on March 13, 2021
    • @Jim , out of curiosity I tried to research your question regarding the srar line of pipes. I found only one meaningful source. The pipe pictured of the following link appears to be unfinished and much lower-priced then other pipes from this manufacturer. I'm guessing Factory seconds.

    • Jim on March 13, 2021
    • @Bill: Thanks! I appreciate you doing that research and posting what you found.

    • RICHARD A BRIDGES on April 4, 2021
    • IMHO, I have a different explanation about why the Brigham pipe is such a good deal in the above post by David.For a word of caution about Vendabuyr/Vendabu; see this posting on the web - have no personal experience buying from this site, BUT it looks too good to be true! There are many "bargains" listed on pipes, really good deals with somewhat fuzzy pictures, with little information about the actual item and the company appears to have no address or phone number (at least that they are willing to share with customers), only an email for "Natosha" in customer service!If it looks like a scam, swims like a scam and quacks like a scam, it's probably a scam!

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