Candles have been used for thousands of years and up until the early
1900s they were the single source for artificial light. Candles
also have a rich tradition in religious services in many faiths
through-out history. Today, the candle is no longer the single
source of light but is used abundantly in religious services as
well as in birthday celebrations, holidays, and home decorations.
Originally, candles were made from tallow, which was extracted
from cattle and sheep, in the early Egyptian and Roman times.
These early candles burned poorly and probably smelled even worse.
The Roman Empire was the first to provide evidence of a candle
that resembles the candle today. They melted the tallow until
it was a liquid and poured it over fibers of flax, hemp, and/or
cotton, which were used as a wick. These candles were used in
religious ceremonies as well as lighting for their travel and
During the Middle Ages candles became more prevalent in worship.
It was at this time that beeswax was used to make candles. These
beeswax candles were made much like the Romans made their candles
with tallow. Beeswax was a drastic improvement from the tallow,
but limited quantities were available, which made it expensive
limiting it to clergy and the upper class.
There are a wide array of candles and candle types that are
on the market today. Candles are either created to be free
standing or to be filled in a vessel. The candles are broken
down into categories:
A candle that is created from
wax poured into a special glass, tan, and/or pottery.
Container candles can be used as decorative and are typically
Free standing candles that were
originally produced as white and unscented and are typically
lit for devotion or gratitude in religious ceremonies.
Today the votive candles are available in a wide array
of color and fragrances. Votive candles should be made
intended to burn in an appropriate holder.
A rigid, free standing candle
that is available in a wide variety of shapes and designs.
A very slender candle that can
range in height from 6” up to 20” and are
used in an appropriate holder.
A very small cylindrical candle that
is in its own aluminum or polycarbonate holder.
A very unique candle that
has an outer shell that typically has dried flowers,
shells, and/or other items embedded in the wax. The candle
is designed to burn down the middle, illuminating the
In colonial America the early settlers discovered that they
were able to obtain a very appeasing wax by boiling the berries
from the bay-berry shrub. This wax created a very sweet smelling
and good burning candle; however the process of making the bayberry
wax was very tedious and tiresome.
In the 18th century the whaling industry thrived and as a result,
whale oil was available in large quantities. Spermaceti wax was
derived from the whale oil and was used as a replacement for
tallow, beeswax, and bayberry wax. The spermaceti wax candle
did emit a rather unpleasant smell but the wax was hard enough
to hold shape in the hot summer months.
The 19th century was a defining time for the candles and candle
making. The first patented candle making machines were introduced.
This breakthrough allowed candles to reach the homes of all classes.
It was also right around this same time that a chemist named
Michael Eugene Chevreul identified for the first time that tallow
or animal fat consisted of various fatty acids. One of the fatty
acids he identified was stearine (stearic acid). In 1825, Chevreul
and another chemist named Joseph Gay Lussac patented a process
for candle making from crude stearic. This process drastically
improved the quality of candles.
The braided wick was also invented in the 19th century. Wicks
before this time were made simply of twisted strands of cotton,
which burned very poorly and needed constant maintenance. The
braided wick was tightly plaited and a portion of the wick curled
over and enabled it to be completely consumed.
It was in the middle of the 19th century that paraffin wax was
first used in a candle in Battersea, UK. This led to the commercial
production of paraffin, which is an oil distillate. Paraffin
burned clean, bright and without an odor. The paraffin was also
blended with stearic acid, which hardened the wax and created
a superior and cheaper candle.
Today the candle market offers candle lovers a wide variety
of candles produced from a wide variety of waxes: paraffin,
vegetable waxes, beeswaxes and the newest trend of gel waxes.
These candles are offered in a myriad of colors, shapes, designs
and fragrances. Candles are no longer the sole source of light
but they are desired for their ambience, home decoration and
The History of Candle Making Continues with You!