Candle Making History

Candle making history, dating from primitive man through the modern era.

When man first discovered how to use fire to cook with, he began to notice that the fat dripping into the fire caused it to burn brighter. With a little deductive reasoning man probably realized that he could use this animal fat to light his dwelling. The first 'candles' were probably nothing more than flaming lumps of animal fat. The candle probably evolved from wood, rushes, or cords dipped in fat.

It would be almost impossible to attempt to date the origin of candles. The existing evidence is inconclusive as to the candle's history. Ancient words that translated as candle could have actually meant, "Torch" or "Lamp". The word "Candlestick" actually meant a rack or stand to hold one of these lights. Initially, candles were made from Tallow. Tallow is the solid fat extracted from animals, especially from cattle or sheep. We do know that remains of candles were found in excavations in Greece and Egypt. These remains were closely dated at around 3000 B.C. It was not until the emergence of the Roman Empire that scientists began to see evidence of the development of candles as we know them today. The Roman method was simply to heat the tallow until it liquefied. Next the tallow was poured over a wick material, usually made from the pith of rushes, which was suspended from a horizontal rod. As it was poured, the candle maker would use his hands to smooth the cooling tallow. A trough underneath the suspended candles would catch the excess and would then be returned to the melting pot. The Romans used candles not only to light their homes and to facilitate traveling at night, but also for their religious practices.

During the middle ages, candles became associated with worship. In fact, priests manufactured beeswax candles for their rituals and also for the secular population. Using the Roman method, they simply poured molten beeswax over a wick material. The secular demand for candles began to grow and Candle Guilds were formed. King Edward the IV had a servant whose only job was to keep a stock of grease and fat taken from animals after they were slaughtered for use in making candles.

Early candles were made by suspending several wicks from a long rod called a Broach. The liquefied tallow was poured into a container and the wicks were dipped three times and then hung on a rack and allowed to dry. After this initial dipping, the candles would be repeatedly dipped until the desired thickness was achieved.

The practice of using molds to make candles began in the 15th century in France. The wax was poured into hollow open-ended cylinders. These cylinders had a cap with a small hole in the center for the wick. The wick was then placed in the mold and held in place by small wires. Once the mold was filled the wicks were pulled taunt and the wax left to cool. And the wires were removed.

A true candlemaker would bleach his candles by hanging them outside. Although he would protect the candles from the sun and the elements, he would keep them outside for 8 to 10 days.

In the 1820's braided wicks were being used along with stearic acid. This chemical is a by-product of fat and was blended into the wax to harden it. This created candles that burned longer. During this time period Spermaceti was also being used in making candles. Spermaceti is a solid waxy substance taken from the head of the sperm whale. In America this was supplemented with Bayberry, a vegetable wax.

By the mid 19th century the Industrial Revolution had transformed the way candles were made. Paraffin had begun to replace the venerable Tallow. However, handmade candles were still in demand. Especially candles made for religious activities. Many of these had to be custom made.

Today, most candles are machine made by a molding process. As an art form, candlemaking still survives in our modern world. The symbolism associated with candles is entrenched forever in our minds. It represents religion, joy, sadness, and sacrifice.

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