Today many of us can say “let there be light” and with the flick of a switch we turn on an electrical lighting appliance. However prior to the invention of electricity it was candles that were used to light the way. So how did candles come about?
The ancient Romans made their candles from tallow (animal fat) which was melted and poured over strips of flax, hemp or cotton wicks. The early Chinese used wax from an indigenous insect and seeds with rolled rice paper for a wick. In Japan they used wax extracted from tree nuts, in India they used a waxy substance made from boiling the fruit of the cinnamon tree and the Egyptians soaked the pithy core of reeds in melted animal fat.
In the 13th century, candle making became a guild craft in England and France and candle makers known as chandlers would go from house to house to make candles from saved kitchen fats. They also began selling candles from small candle shops.
Beeswax came about in the middle ages making a significant difference as beeswax burned pure and clean without producing a smoky flame. It also threw out a sweet aroma compared to the vile smell of animal fat. However beeswax was limited in supply and usually only available for sacred/religious ceremonies or the wealthy.
The colonial settlers in the USA discovered that boiling the berries from the bayberry bush produced a sweet smelling and good burning candle. They also discovered it was an extremely slow and tiring process and so became less inclined to be used.
The whaling industry in the 18th century made a huge change in candle making. The discovery of crystallizing sperm whale oil called Spermaceti wax, became the replacement for tallow, beeswax, and bayberry wax. It was affordable and available in abundance and while the spermaceti wax still had a rather unpleasant smell, the wax produced a brighter light and could still hold shape in the hottest months.
The 19th century brought monumental changes to candle making. Firstly, Stearin wax (an extract from animal fatty acids) was discovered. This wax was hard, durable, burned cleanly and drastically improved the quality of candles.
Secondly, wicks became an important feature. From simply twisted strands of cotton that needed constant attention to keep alight, the braided wick was invented. These were tightly plaited which helped the candle burn in entirety and with less maintenance.
Thirdly, with the invention of machinery came the continuous production of affordable, quality candles.
However it was the last discovery in the 1850s with the introduction of an oil distillate known as paraffin wax that had made the greatest impact on candle making. Chemists in Battersea, UK discovered how to separate a naturally occurring waxy substance from petroleum and refine it. Paraffin wax burned cleanly and consistently and by adding stearic acid, which hardened the wax, a superior and cheaper candle was in commercial mass production.
Declining in the late 1870s with the introduction of the light bulb, candles made a resurgence during the first half of the 20th century due to oil and meatpacking industries producing an increase in the by-products of paraffin and stearic acid. Candles maintained their popularity as a light source but it was a boom in the mid-1980s that suddenly saw candles available in an assortment of sizes, shapes and colours and scents that candles became more household decorative pieces and mood setters.
New types of candle waxes were being developed in the 1990s including synthetic and chemically synthesized waxes and gels for specialty candle uses and by the late ‘90s soy and palm wax became available.
While many of us no longer need to rely on candles for lighting, we still rely on candles for significant occasions: Carols by Candlelight wouldn’t be the same without candles. A birthday cake isn’t as much fun without blowing out candles. An intimate dinner for two is so much more romantic with candles. A luxurious soak in a bubble bath is so much more relaxing when soaking by candlelight. A muscle relaxing massage or taking time to meditate are so much more enjoyable with the scent of an aromatherapy candle.
Eco-soya, scented and coloured candles coming soon to theTLCollection range. – Trudi