Candles have been used for light and to illuminate celebrations for more than 5000 years. Accounts of candle use date back to ancient times, with Biblical references as early as the tenth century BC. The earliest known example of a candle—just a fragment— from the first century AD was found in Avignon, France. Found in great halls, monasteries, churches, simple cottages to shops, the candle is tied to our existence after sunset.
As the days get shorter in parts of the world, the nights get darker. Create an atmosphere by casting a warm and lovely glow in your home. Turn off the lights this evening, have a fire and light dozens and dozens of candles. Large and small, tall and wide. Sip some wine, play a board game or two and enjoy the oldest light sources of our age.
History of The Candle
Thousands of years prior to the invention of electricity, candles were the only way people could illuminate their homes and other areas after the sun went down. Early Egyptians and Romans used tallow, a byproduct of rendered animal fat, to make the first candles. Tallow was set in a container over an open flame until it melted. It was then poured over a primitive wick that was typically made of cotton, flax, or hemp. The first candles were used for religious worship and to light homes.
Candle making evolved somewhat in the Middle Ages when candles were made from beeswax, but the limited availability of beeswax made candles expensive. Beeswax candles were typically reserved for religious brethren and the wealthy.
American settlers discovered that a sweet smelling wax could be obtained by boiling berries from the bayberry plant. Making bayberry wax proved to be labor intensive, however, which is why wax made from whale oil became popular in the 18th century at the height of the whaling industry. The downside to using whale oil was the awful smell it emitted when it burned; however, whale oil candles were some of the most durable candles since they could withstand hot summer weather.
In the 1820s, chemist Eugene Chevreul identified stearine as one of the fundamental elements of candle wax. By 1825, he and a fellow colleague patented a candle making method using crude stearine, and this vastly enhanced the quality of candles. The birth of the candle making machine occurred in the 19th century, and now candles can be produced in mass quantities.
Inventors in the 19th century also upgraded the wicks on candles. Previously, wicks had been made of twisted cotton, but pleated braid wicks significantly improved how the wicks burned. Moreover, the first paraffin candle was produced in the 1800s in the UK. Paraffin, an oil distillate, was favored because it burned clean and odorless.
Candles may no longer be the world’s primary light source, but they are certainly great as decorations for all types of occasions, including celebratory and religious ones.
Photography: Bobbi Lin