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Tradition, History & Development of Candles

The Tradition of Candles

Candles were originally used for lighting and in religious services and festivals.  Candles were also used for signals in warfare, safety especially in travel, time keeping and for discovery.

 

Candles have played a role in paganism, in Wiccan ceremonies, and even in modern humanist festivals.  Religiously, Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights which centers on the lighting of candles, dates back to 165 B.C. There are several Biblical references to candles, and the Emperor Constantine is reported to have called for the use of candles during an Easter service in the 4th century.  Candles continue to be used to by Christians in a variety of worship and as symbols representing the light of Christ. 

 

Through time candles became colored and scented so that they were not just a source of artificial lighting, but also a source of art, beauty and scent which could set the ambience of a room and the atmosphere for special events.  Today, candles are used for almost every holiday, religious services and festivals, and in a variety of situations, from taking a bath to celebrating a birthday to praying for a loved one to celebrating a romantic Valentines Day.
 

History & Development of Candles

Today, candles are available in a multitude of colors, shapes, designs and fragrances, and made from a wide variety of waxes from organic based waxes like beeswax and soy and vegetable waxes to higher temperature melting paraffin and gel waxes.

 

The first candle making I observed was in the 1960’s as part of a family tradition, but candles have been around for thousands of years and in all parts of the world! 

 

The first candles were made without wicks but always some form of "Wax"

Historians have found evidence that many other early civilizations developed wicked candles using waxes made from available plants and insects.

 

Ancient Egyptian “candles” were torches made by soaking the pithy core of reeds in melted animal fat and were held by clay candle holders in 400BC, but these Ancient Egyptian candles are not considered “true” candles since they had no wick. 

 

The Chinese used whale fat to make candles under the Qin Shi Huang(259–210 BC) who was the first emperor of the Chinese Qin Dynasty(221–206 BC). In time, beeswax came into use and is believed to be first used for candles as early as the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), and even later candle wax derived from the Coccos pella insect had been developed by the 12th century.
 

In Japan, candles were made of wax extracted from tree nuts.

 

In India, temples made candles from boiling fruit of the cinnamon tree.
 
Ancient Egyptians and the Early Romans relied largely on tallow rendered from animals.

 

In America, before our country was founded, American Indians in the Pacific Northwest made candles from a fish that they named the “candle fish” (eulachon: a type of smelt fish).  They would actually put the dried fish on a forked stick and light it to illuminate the night.

 

Beeswax was introduced to Europe in the Middle Ages, but was rarely used in homes because of its great expense.

 

Over the centuries, the development of new waxes for candles has hinged on the availability of the raw material, the ease and economy of processing the raw material into a wax suitable for candle use, and the desirability of the wax in comparison to other available candle waxes.

 

The First “Modern” Wicked Candles

Although some have argued that the Chinese first started using wicks made from rolled rice paper for the wick and wax from an indigenous insect, it is generally believed that the first wicked candles were developed by the Romans. It was in Rome, Italy where candles were first made which most resemble today’s modern candle.  Romans used tallow, derived from suet, a crumbly animal fat to make their candles. Although the tallow was extremely smoky, the smoke was forgiven for light and used for prayer. They were at altars, shrines, used in temples and were very common. The technique was simple; the tallow was put into the melting pot, then poured into molds made of bronze. A trough underneath would catch the excess wax and return it to the melting pot. For the wick, hemp, usually made from the pith of rushes, (the tissue inside the stem of a plant that grows in marshes) is suspended from a horizontal rod over the mold when the tallow is poured in.


Excavations at Pompeii, Italy discovered several candelabra.

 

In Tibet, candles were first made using Yakbutter

 

In France, the remains of Candles were found from the first century.

 
Making candles for timekeeping

Anglo-Saxon king Alfred the Great(c. 849 - 899) used a candle-clock which burned for 4 hours. There were lines around the side to show the passing of each hour. Later, 24-hour candles were invented based on the same concept. The Sung dynastyin China (960–1279) also used candle-clocks.

 

1500 AD - present

During the Middle Agesin Europe, the popularity of candles is shown by their use in Candlemasand on Saint Lucyfestivities. Tallow, fat from cows or sheep, became the standard material used in candles in Europe. The Tallow Chandlers Company of Londonwas formed in about 1300 in London, and in 1456 was granted a coat of arms. Dating from about 1330, the Wax Chandlers Company acquired its charter in 1484. By 1415, tallow candles were used in street lighting. The trade of the chandler is also recorded by the more picturesque name of "smeremongere", since they oversaw the manufacture of sauces, vinegar, soap and cheese. The unpleasant smell of tallow candles is due to the glycerinethey contain. For churches and royal events, candles from beeswax were used, as the smell was usually less unpleasant. The smell of the manufacturing process was so unpleasant that it was banned by ordinance in several cities. The first candle mould comes from 15th century Paris.  It was at this time, beeswax first began being used to make candles but since beeswax was not readily available, it was expensive

 

The first American colonists discovered that the grayish-green berries of bayberry bushes could be used to make a sweet-smelling wax that burned cleanly, but the yield was very poor. Fifteen pounds of boiled bayberries would provide only one pound of wax, so its use soon ended.

 

The growth of the whaling industry in the late 18th century brought the first major change in candlemaking since the Middle Ages  In 1750, Spermaceti, oil that comes from sperm whale, was used to provide very expensive candles. Like beeswax, the spermaceti wax did not elicit a repugnant odor when burned, and produced a significantly brighter light.  By 1800, a much cheaper alternative was discovered. Colza oil, derived from Brassica campestris, and a similar oil derived from rape seed, yielded candles that produce clear, smokeless flames.

 

19th Century Advances

Most of the major developments impacting contemporary candlemaking occurred during the 19th century. The French chemists Michel-Eugene Chevreul(1786–1889) and Joseph-Louis Gay-Lussac(1778–1850) patented stearin, in 1811. Like tallow, this was derived from animals, but had no glycerine content and was was hard, durable and burned cleanly. Stearin candles remain popular in Europe today.

 

In 1834, inventor Joseph Morgan helped to further the modern-day candle industry by developing a machine that allowed for continuous production of molded candles by using a cylinder with a movable piston to eject candles as they solidified. With the introduction of mechanized production, candles became an easily affordable commodity for the masses.

 

Paraffin wax was introduced in the 1850s, after chemists learned how to efficiently separate the naturally-occurring waxy substance from petroleum and refine it. Odorless and bluish-white in color, paraffin was a boon to candlemaking because it burned cleanly, consistently and was more economical to produce than any other candle fuel. Its only disadvantage was a low melting point. This was soon overcome by adding the harder stearic acid, which had become widely available. With the introduction of the light bulb in 1879, candlemaking began to decline.

 
Paraffin is by far the most frequently used candle wax on a worldwide basis today. Beeswax is also used around the globe, although in significantly smaller quantities. Stearin candle wax is largely limited to European use. Soy wax, palm wax, gels, synthetic waxes, and synthesized waxes are also now used in candles, as are a variety of wax blends and customized wax formulations.
 
During the latter half of the 20th century, several synthetic and chemically synthesized waxes, including gels, were developed largely for specialty candle uses. Two vegetable-based candle waxes - soy wax and palm wax - were developed for commercial use in the candle market during the late 1990s by hydrogenating soybean and palm oils, respectively.

 

The 20th Century

Candles enjoyed renewed popularity during the first half of the 20th century, when the growth of U.S. oil and meatpacking industries brought an increase in the byproducts that had become the basic ingredients of candles – paraffin and stearic acid.

 

The popularity of candles remained steady until the mid-1980s, when interest in candles as decorative items, mood-setters and gifts began to increase notably. Candles were suddenly available in a broad array of sizes, shapes and colors, and consumer interest in scented candles began to escalate.

 
The 1990s witnessed an unprecedented surge in the popularity of candles, and for the first time in more than a century, new types of candle waxes were being developed. In the U.S., agricultural chemists began to develop soybean wax, a softer and slower burning wax than paraffin. On the other side of the globe, efforts were underway to develop palm wax for use in candles.
 

 

Sources:
Melting & Filling Equipment, Inc. 

 

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