History of candles
According to estimations, the invention of the candle dates back at least 5,000 years. It is a fact, for example, that in the Ancient Near East at this time already “candles” were used. However, these had only little in common with the candles that we use today: They consisted of straw, hemp or reed which was soaked in fat or resin.
Early Wicked Candles
The ancient Romans are generally credited with developing the wicked candle before that time by dipping rolled papyrus repeatedly in melted tallow or beeswax. The resulting candles were used to light their homes, to aid travelers at night, and in religious ceremonies.
Most early Western cultures relied primarily on candles rendered from animal fat (tallow). A major improvement came in the Middle Ages, when beeswax candles were introduced in Europe. Unlike animal-based tallow, beeswax burned pure and cleanly, without producing a smoky flame. It also emitted a pleasant sweet smell rather than the foul, acrid odor of tallow. Beeswax candles were widely used for church ceremonies, but because they were expensive, few individuals other than the wealthy could afford to burn them in the home.
19th Century Advances
Most of the major developments impacting contemporary candlemaking occurred during the 19th century. In the 1820s, French chemist Michel Eugene Chevreul discovered how to extract stearic acid from animal fatty acids. This lead to the development of stearin wax, which was hard, durable and burned cleanly. Stearin candles are still very popular today.
The 20th Century
Candles enjoyed renewed popularity during the first half of the 20th century, when the growth of oil and meatpacking industries brought an increase in the byproducts that had become the basic ingredients of candles – paraffin and stearic acid.
Candles have come a long way since their initial use. Although no longer man's major source of light, they continue to grow in popularity and use. Today, candles symbolize celebration, mark romance, soothe the senses, define ceremony, and accent home decors - casting a warm and lovely glow for all to enjoy.