The history of candles is very long, archaeologists say the first candles appeared 5000 years ago (3000 BC) in Egypt and Crete. The first candles were made from animal (sheep and cattle) fat. The torch was another variant of candle used especially for lighting bigger places, torches were usually used outdoors because of the smoke they released. The first that introduced the wick in the history of candles were the Romans who used them in places of worship and for traveling at night.
What was the evolution in the history of candles during the ages?
The introduction of beeswax in the history of candles was in the Middle Ages, this wax was extremely expensive and only the rich could afford it, the new advantage that beeswax brought was that the candle burned very cleanly when compared to tallow candles. This new candles were preferred by the church that quickly adopted them and they are still used today. When the first colonials settled in America they found by accident that boiling grayish green berries resulted in a kind of wax that is similar to beeswax and doesn’t smell when it burns. This new opportunity didn’t have the effect everyone hoped for because the process was very long and expensive, so this just remains as a step in the history of candles.
In the 18th century the walling industry brought another solution for candle makers, the spermaceti was used to obtain a wax that didn’t release any unpleasant smell when burned. The history of candles was seriously changed in the 19th century when the first machine that produced candles automatically appeared, in 1850 paraffin was discovered, it is a product obtain from petroleum residues. Paraffin candles burned without any unpleasant smell and because of the fact they were also cheep, they eliminated all similar competition. The single problem with paraffin was the melting point that was harder to achieve, but using the stearic acid all the difficulties were easily passed over, so paraffin candles imposed on the market and occupied a leading position in the history of candles.
The end of candles?
Edison was the one who defeated their practical side and brought to an end the long history of candles; in 1879 he discovered the bulb and as a result candle making soon disappeared as a mass industry. At present candles are used as decorative objects or as part of the aromatherapy treatments, but their most important role remains in the Christian Churches where candles are present not as a light source but as a spiritual object.