History of Candles

Candles go back more than 5,000 years. As electricity is a relatively recent invention, various forms of candles were used for light for many centuries across the world. While the actual wick candle was probably invented around 3,000 BC or a little earlier, ancient Egyptians from an earlier time used to dip the pithy core of reeds into melted animal fat to make what we refer to as rushlights or torches.

As far as history can tell, the ancient Romans made the first wick by rolling papyrus and dipping it over and over into beeswax or melted tallow. These simple candles were used at night, to light the interiors of their homes. It is not known exactly when this practice began.

But back in Egypt, we know they were making wick candles by 3000 B.C. During approximately the same period, Chinese citizens were rolling rice paper for a wick and using wax from insects and seeds to form candles. The ancient Japanese were using tree nuts for wax and in India, they boiled the fruit of the cinnamon tree for wax.

Much later, in 165 B.C., Hanukkah began to be celebrated, being called the Jewish Festival of Lights. Candles have ever since been a part of this religious ceremony. Many other cultures also have used candles as a part of their practices and rituals.

The early Western cultures used tallow, which is animal fat, to make their candles. The tallow candles emitted a foul odor. Moving into the middle ages, Europe began making beeswax candles because they burned more cleanly and had a pleasant sweet scent when lit. But, because of the expense, beeswax candles were only used for ceremonial purposes and by the wealthy for many generations.

It wasnt until colonial times that wax made from crystallized sperm whale oil was discovered. Unlike tallow candles it did not emit a foul odor, it did not soften on warm days, and it produced a brighter light than tallow candles could.

Later developments include stearin wax (made with a chemical extracting process of animal fatty acids), paraffin wax (made from petroleum), and soybean wax. Each of these improved upon older versions, burning cleaner and smelling better. Todays candles use these waxes, many being made of combinations of stearin wax and paraffin. While candle-making dropped substantially with the advent of electricity, today they are popular for their ambience and variety of available scents and colors that give a room that special something which only candles can give.
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