Candle Making History

Candle Making History

For over 5,000 years, candles have played a role in providing light and illuminating celebrations, though their precise origins remain somewhat mysterious.

The earliest known use of candles is often attributed to the Ancient Egyptians who crafted rushlights or torches by soaking reed pith in melted animal fat. However, these primitive rushlights lacked a proper wick like modern candles.

Wicked Candles
Around 3,000 B.C., while the Egyptians were experimenting with wicked candles, credit for the development of wicked candles generally goes to the ancient Romans. They crafted candles with wicks by repeatedly dipping rolled papyrus in melted tallow or beeswax. These candles found various uses, from lighting homes to assisting nighttime travelers and playing a role in religious ceremonies.

Numerous early civilizations across the world also embraced wicked candles using waxes derived from local plants and insects. In China, candles were molded in paper tubes with rolled rice paper wicks and wax from indigenous insects mixed with seeds. In Japan, tree nut wax was used, while in India, candle wax was derived from boiling the fruit of the cinnamon tree.

Candle making
During the 13th century, candle making became a guild craft in England and France. Candlemakers, also known as chandlers, would visit homes to create candles using kitchen fats reserved for this purpose, or they operated small candle shops where they sold their handcrafted candles.

Whaling And Spermaceti Wax
The late 18th century saw a significant change in candlemaking with the growth of the whaling industry. Spermaceti, a wax obtained by crystallizing sperm whale oil, became readily available. Like beeswax, spermaceti wax burned cleanly and emitted a brighter light. Its hardness prevented bending or softening in summer heat, and historians identify it as the first "standard candles."

Paraffin Wax
In the 1850s, chemists learned to separate paraffin wax, a waxy substance found in petroleum. Paraffin burned consistently, cleanly, and without odor, making it an economical choice for candlemaking. The low melting point was overcome by adding stearic acid, which was widely available. However, with the advent of the light bulb in 1879, candlemaking began to decline.

20th Century
In the first half of the 20th century, the growth of U.S. oil and meatpacking industries boosted the production of basic candle ingredients—paraffin and stearic acid. Candles remained steady in popularity until the mid-1980s, when they experienced a resurgence as decorative items, mood-setters, and gifts. The range of candles expanded, offering various sizes, shapes, colors, and scents.

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