Updated: Aug 19
The history of candles is a long one. Humanity has always needed light.
Before electricity, candles played a monumental role in society. Candles illuminate our daily lives and are considered one of the best inventions humans have ever come up with, well, that is, until electricity came about. This was terrible news for the candles, but like most things in our world, they were fiercely stubborn and would stick around to this day one way or another.
Some of the first recorded uses of candles were in ancient Egypt, where they would use Pithy core reeds and animal fat to create a rushlight or a torch. However, the Romans would start using the current form of a wicked candle; they did this by dipping rolled papyrus repeatedly in melted tallow or beeswax. The candles would light their homes, aid travelers, and religious ceremonies. The Romans would not be the only ones to use a wicked candle.
In East Asia, Chinese candles were made by mixing insects with seeds, while in Japan, using tree nuts, and not so far in India, candle wax was made by boiling the fruit of the cinnamon tree.
Candles have played a pivotal role in religious ceremonies and rituals. Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, centers on lighting candles and Catholic rites and ceremonies. Interestingly, ex-communication is called “bell, book, and candle,” where the Pope and his cardinals extinguish 13 lit candles by throwing them to the ground.
As candles made their way through history, different materials were used to upgrade to the ones used by the Romans, Chinese, Japanese, and Indians. Animal fat, also called tallow, produced a foul, acrid odor. Beeswax was next used as a replacement for petroleum, but due to the expensive nature of beeswax, it was widely used by the church and individuals with the means to pay for them.
Different types of waxes would make their mark. French chemist Michel Eugene Chevreul discovered how to extract stearic acid from animal fatty acids—creating stearin wax, which was durable and burned cleanly. Stearin candles are popular in Europe today.
The need for more accessible candles would lead inventor Joseph Morgan to develop a machine that allowed the continuous production of molded candles.
Candles are as important now as they were a thousand years ago. We continue to use them to light our homes and rituals, and now as they are more accessible, technology has allowed us to create more scents and use different types of materials. The candle continues to improve, and the more it does, the cleaner the materials become, allowing for a cleaner and more pleasant experience.