HISTORY OF CANDLES
For more than 5000 years candles have been used to light man's way but very little is really known about how they originated.
It has been written many times that the very first candles were created by Ancient Egyptians, using rush lights or torches built by soaking the pithy core of papyrus reeds found growing along the Nile River in melted animal fat. It should be noted however that these rush lights contained no wick such as in a true candle.
EARLY WICKED CANDLES
The early Egyptians were using candles with wicks in 3,000 B.C. but it is the Romans who are for the most part credited with giving us wicked candles prior to that time by dipping rolled up papyrus a number of times in melted tallow or beeswax. The candles developed this way were used to guide travelers at night, during religious ceremonies and to provide light in their homes.
Historians have found proof that other early civilizations had also 'invented' their own wicked candles using various waxes made from whatever plants and insects available. It’s suggested that early Chinese candles were molded in paper tubes, used rolled rice paper for the wick, and contained the wax from an indigenous insect that had been combined with different seeds. In Japan, wax extracted from tree nuts was used to make candles and in India a wax for candles was made by boiling the fruit of the local cinnamon tree.
It is also acknowledged that candles played a very important role in many early religious ceremonies. The Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukkah which centers on the lighting of candles can be traced back to 165 B.C. There are numerous Biblical references to candles and the Roman Emperor Constantine is said to have called for candles during an Easter service in the fourth century.
Many early Western cultures relied heavily on candles rendered from tallow (animal fat). A major improvement came about during the Middle Ages, when beeswax candles were first bought to Europe. Unlike the tallow, beeswax burned cleanly and purely with no smoky flame. It also gave off a pleasant and sweet smell rather than the acrid odour produced by tallow. Beeswax candles were very widely used during church ceremonies but given they were very expensive at the time very few individuals except for the wealthy could afford to burn them in their own homes.
The most common household candles in Europe were undoubtedly tallow candles and such was their popularity that candle making in England and France had indeed become a guilded craft. The chandlers (candle makers) went from home to home making candles from the various kitchen fats that had been saved specifically for that purpose or made and sold their own line of candles from their small candle shops.
Colonial women offered America’s first contribution to candlemaking, when they discovered that boiling the grayish-green berries of bayberry bushes produced a sweet-smelling wax that burned cleanly. However, extracting the wax from the bayberries was extremely tedious. As a result, the popularity of bayberry candles soon diminished.
During the late 18th century and with the growth of the whaling industry the first major change in making candles since the Middle Ages occurred when a wax made by crystallizing sperm whale oil (spermaceti) was available in large quantity. The spermaceti wax, like beeswax did not give off a foul odour when burned and it produced a much brighter light. It was also considerably harder than beeswax or tallow so it wouldn’t soften in the summer heat. Many leading Historians agree that the first “standard candles” were constructed from spermaceti wax.
19TH CENTURY ADVANCES
A lot of the major developments having an impact on contemporary candle making came about during the 19th century. A French chemist in the late 1820's Michel Eugene Chevreul worked out how to extract the stearic acid component from animal fatty acids leading to the development of stearic wax, which was durable, hard and burned very cleanly. Stearic candles to this day remain popular in Europe.
Furthering the modern day candle industry in 1834 an inventor by the name of Joseph Morgan came up with a machine that permitted the continuous production of molded candles by using a cylinder with a piston that moved thereby ejectimg them as they solidified. With the introduction of such mechanical production methods candles fast became a very affordable commodity for the mainstream masses.
In the 1850's Paraffin wax was introduced after chemists of the day learned how to separate the naturally occurring waxy substance coming from petroleum and to refine it. Bluish-white in colour and odourless paraffin was a blessing to candle making given it burned cleanly, very consistently and was much cheaper to produce than any other candle fuel available at the time. It did have one disadvantage in that it had a low melting point but this was soon overcome by adding to it the harder stearic acid, which by now had become widely available. It was with the introduction of the light bulb in 1879 that candle making went into to decline as the primary means by which to light one's home.
THE 20TH CENTURY
Candles underwent a renewed popularity in the first half of the 20th century, when the growth of U.S. oil and giant meatpacking industries generated an increase in the by-products that had become the fundamental ingredients of candles, which was paraffin and stearic acid.
The popularity of candles remained strong until the mid-1980s, when the use of candles as gifts, decorative items and mood-setters increased notably. Candles became suddenly available in a broad range of colours, sizes and shapes and consumer interest in these scented candles began to increase.
An unprecedented surge in the popularity of candles occurred during the 1990s and for the first time in more than one hundred years new types of waxes for candles was being developed. In America, agricultural chemists developed a soybean wax which was softer and more slower burning than paraffin and on the other side of the world efforts were underway to develop palm wax for use in candle making.
Since their early inception candles really have come a long way. While they are no longer man’s primary source of light they continue to grow in use and popularity. Todays modern candles define ceremony, soothe the senses, mark romance, symbolize celebration and accent home decors, they cast a warm and lovely glow for one and all to enjoy.