While history shows that candles were first used as the main source of unnatural light during early centuries, it’s made such remarkable changes over time.
Some of the earliest methods of candle making used whale fat, later becoming cow and sheep fat (or tallow). These sources of fat weren’t exactly pleasant in smell, as you can probably imagine, but candles weren’t used for fragrance they were simply a light source. Beeswax, another early used source of candle making dated back to the middle ages, was likely the most pleasant of aromatic candles, but were so expensive that they were only used
for royal events, the wealthy, and for churches.
When wicks were first introduced, the idea stemmed from the early use of olive oil in lamps that soaked up oil and kept a steady burn. From this came the idea to soak reeds in tallow so that it could be lit to form torches. While even later on, the thought was expanded on when fibers were woven and dipped in tallow to create wicks.
Around Colonial times, settlers discovered the ability to create more aromatic candles by boiling bayberries from the bayberry bush. The wax produced a beautiful bayberry aroma, one that we’ve become a bit familiar with today. It was also a very clean burning candle, giving off less of the carbon (soot) that would come from the animal fats. The drawback of making these bayberry candles is that it was a very tedious process that took far too long to make, and the number of berries it took to make even one candle was quite discouraging.
As time progressed, the 18th century brought a boom in the whaling industry. The sperm whale’s head produced a beautifully burning oil that cut soot phenomenally. Spermaceti, as the oil was called, was crystallized and produced the first of what we now view as more modern candles. It yielded a better product that was not putrid in odor and would hold up in warmer weather, unlike other previous waxes.
By the time of the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution brought early machines that replaced the hands of the chandler (as candle makers were called). Paraffin wax, created from coal shale and oil, was made by using a distilling process to refine crude petroleum. Stearin was also discovered by Michel Eugène Chevreul as a useful additive to the paraffin wax candles to keep them from becoming soft in warmer weather, which is still used in candle making today.
Today, modern candles are no longer used as a necessary light source. For us, candles are a luxury item where we indulge in their beautiful fragrance and are calmed by their tranquil ambiance. They’re a decorative addition to our home or a universal gift that satisfies any special occasion. They can affect our moods, bring back cherished memories. As the candles industry evolves, remember there’s one light that has never changed over the centuries, and it's that light that we want to share with others.
"There are two ways of spreading light: To be the candle or the mirror that reflects it." - Edith Wharton
source: The Everything Dawn Mission, 2020