* Beginning Tuesday, July 13, 2021 *

History of Candles

The history of candle making does not belong to any one country as it was developed independently in many countries. The Egyptians formed candles that were make out of beeswax as early as 3000 BC. The Chinese created candles from whale fat during the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC). In early China and Japan, tapers were made with wax from insects and seeds, wrapped in paper. In India, wax from boiling cinnamon was used for temple candles. During the first century AD, indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest fused oil from the eulachon, or "candlefish", for illumination. Excavations at Pompeii, Italy, revealed several candelabra.


  1. 3000 - 1 BC
  2. 1 AD - 1500 AD
    • 2.1 Manufacturing of candles
    • 2.2 Making candles for timekeeping
  3. 1500 AD - present
    • 3.1 Manufacturing of candles
    • 3.2 Kerosene's impact on candle making
    • 3.3 Candles for timekeeping
  4. In art
  5. External links

3000 - 1 BC

The clay candle holders in Egypt have been found dating back to 400 BC.

Qin Shi Huang (259–210 BC) was the first emperor of the Chinese Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC). His mausoleum, which was rediscovered in the 1990s twenty-two miles east of Xi'an, contained candles made from whale fat[citation needed].

In early China and Japan, tapers were made in wax from insects and seeds, wrapped in paper.

Wax from boiling cinnamon was used for temple candles in India.

1 AD - 1500 AD

There is a fish called the eulachon or "candlefish", a type of smelt which is found from Oregon to Alaska. During the first century AD, indigenous people from this region used oil from this fish for illumination[citation needed]. A simple candle could be made by putting the dried fish on a forked stick and then lighting it.

Excavations at Pompeii discovered several candelabra.

Yak butter was used for candles in Tibet.

In Europe, the earliest surviving candle was discovered near Avignon in France, from the first century AD.

Manufacturing of candles

The oldest candle manufacturers still in existence are Rathbornes Candles, founded in Dublin in 1488.

Making candles for timekeeping

In 848, King Alfred used a candle-clock which burned for 4 hours. There were lines around the side to show the passing of each hour. Later, there 24-hour candles were invented based on the same concept. The Sung dynasty in China (960–1279) also used candle-clocks.

1500 AD - present

During the Middle Ages in Europe, the popularity of candles is shown by their use in Candlemas and on Saint Lucy festivities. Tallow, fat from cows or sheep, became the standard material used in candles in Europe. The Tallow Chandlers Company of London was formed in about 1300 in London, and in 1456 was granted a coat of arms. Dating from about 1330, the Wax Chandlers Company acquired its charter in 1484. By 1415, tallow candles were used in street lighting. The trade of the chandler is also recorded by the more picturesque name of "smeremongere", since they oversaw the manufacture of sauces, vinegar, soap and cheese. The unpleasant smell of tallow candles is due to the glycerine they contain. For churches and royal events, candles from beeswax were used, as the smell was usually less unpleasant. The smell of the manufacturing process was so unpleasant that it was banned by ordnance in several cities. The first candle mould comes from 15th century Paris.

The first American colonists discovered that bayberries could be used to make candles, but the yield was very poor. Fifteen pounds of boiled bayberries would provide only one pound of wax.

By the 18th century, the Chinese designed weights into the sides of candles; as such a candle melted, the weights fell off and made a noise as they fell into a bowl.

In 1750, Spermaceti, oil that comes from sperm whale, was used to provide very expensive candles. By 1800, a much cheaper alternative was discovered. Colza oil, derived from Brassica campestris, and a similar oil derived from rape seed, yielded candles that produce clear, smokeless flames. The French chemists Michel-Eugene Chevreul (1786–1889) and Joseph-Louis Gay-Lussac (1778–1850) patented stearin, in 1811. Like tallow, this was derived from animals, but had no glycerine content.

Manufacturing of candles

Joseph Sampson was granted a United States patent for a new method of candle making in 1790 (this was the second patent ever granted by the US).

In 1834, Joseph Morgan began to industrialise the production of candles. He invented a machine to manufacture 1,500 per hour, from a mould.

A chemist called Laurent distilled Paraffin from schist in 1830. Another chemist, Dumas, obtained paraffin from coal-tar in 1835. Not until 1850 did paraffin become commercially viable, when James Young filed a patent to produce it from coal. Paraffin could be used to make inexpensive candles of high quality.

Kerosene's impact on candle making

Despite advances in candle making, the candle industry was devastated soon after by the distillation of kerosene (an excellent fuel for lamps). (In Britain, kerosene is known as paraffin oil or paraffin despite having little to do with paraffin wax). From this point, candles became more of a decorative item.

In 1829, William Wilson of Price's Candles invested in 1,000 acres (4 km²) of coconut plantation in Sri Lanka. His aim was to make candles from coconut oil. Later he tried palm oil from palm trees. An accidental discovery swept all his ambitions aside when his brother George Wilson distilled the first petroleum oil in 1854. By 1922, the Lever Brothers had purchased Prices Candles and in 1922, a joint-owned company called "Candles Ltd" was created. By 1991, the last remaining owner of "Candles Ltd" was Shell Oil Company, who sold off the candle-making part of business.

The Romans made candles with wicks and wax similar to the candles we have today. For wicks, they used a roll of papyrus treated to slow down the burning. They cleaned tallow or beeswax with seawater, and then bleached it in the sun. Repeated dipping of the wick in the melted tallow or wax built up the body of the candle, just as we build up our hand-dipped candles today.

Candles became very important for religious observances in Christian churches. The first Christian emperor, Constantine, used candles in the Easter service during the fourth century. There was a special day set aside to bless candles and distribute them among the faithful — Candlemas, February 2. Many churches still observe this practice on that day.

Tallow (the fat from animals) and beeswax continued to be commonly used when people made their own candles at home. But soon the making of candles became a craft. In the thirteenth century, in both England and France, there were groups of candle makers organized into guilds. The Tallow Chandlers went from house to house making candles from the grease and fat the housewife saved for that purpose. The Wax Chandlers made and sold their candles in their own shops.

These early candles provided light when the sun went down, but they were nothing like the lovely candles we expect when we place an order with PartyLite. Tallow would become rancid - it's animal fat, after all. In warm weather, the candles would bend and melt. When you burned a candle, you had to expect a certain amount of smoke and odor. No wonder the candle makers (and the housewives) kept looking for a better way to make candles.

In the 19th century, a French chemist, Michel-Eugene Chevreul, figured out how to separate the components of glycerin to produce stearic acid, which made fine candles. A little earlier, whalers had discovered spermaceti, a waxy substance in whales, which also made a better candle. Other chemists were able to separate paraffin wax from petroleum, and soon, stearic acid and paraffin became the basic candle stock.

Wicks got better, too. The Roman paper wicks were changed into fine braided cotton wicks. Good wax and dependable wicks made candles that burned clean and virtually smokeless. Candles were ready for the next steps toward the rich variety and beautiful colors and fragrances we now enjoy.

The next step was the development of molding machines that could produce large numbers of candles at prices people could afford. Computers came next, bringing the ability to precisely measure each bit of color and fragrance for each batch of candles.

When it became possible to monitor the quality of the candle and to predict the length and speed of the burning, candle design branched out into all the types available today. A housewife from old England would be amazed at our candles that burn with sweet scents. The candle you buy from PartyLite is the finest candle possible after a long and proud history.

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