History of candle making

History of candle making

Candle making was developed independently in many countries throughout history. The earliest known candles were made from whale fat by the Chinese, during the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC). In early China and Japan, tapers were made with wax from insects and seeds, wrapped in paper.[1] In India, wax from boiling cinnamon was used for temple candles.[1] During the 1st century AD, indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest fused oil from the eulachon, or "candlefish", for illumination.[1]

A close-up image of a candle showing the wick and the various parts of the flame

In parts of Europe, the Middle-East and Africa, where lamp oil made from olives was readily available, candle making remained unknown until the early middle-ages.


300 - 1 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.[2] The word zhú 燭 in Chinese originally meant torch and could have the Warring States Period (403–221 BC); some excavated bronzewares from that era feature a pricket thought to hold a candle.[3] The Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) Jizhupian dictionary of about 40 BC hints at candles being made of beeswax, while the Book of Jin (compiled in 648) covering the Jin Dynasty (265–420) makes a solid reference to the beeswax candle in regards to its use by the statesman Zhou Yi (d. 322).[3] An excavated earthenware bowl from the 4th century AD, located at the Luoyang Museum, has a hollowed socket where traces of wax were found.[3]

Wax from boiling cinnamon was used for temple candles in India.[1]

Generally these Chinese candles were molded in paper tubes, using rolled rice paper for the wick, and wax from an indigenous insect that was combined with seeds.

Japanese candles were made from wax extracted from tree nuts.

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 1st century AD, indigenous people from this region used oil from this fish for illumination.[1] A simple candle could be made by putting the dried fish on a forked stick and then lighting it. The first candles to appear in Europe were made by nomadic tribes in the late Roman era, but are thought to have been in use much earlier in the colder climates of Northern Europe, where olive oil was scarce. These early candles were made from tallow, or animal fat. The tallow was put into the melting pot, then poured into molds made of bronze. A trough underneath would catch the excess wax and return it to the melting pot. For the wick, a cord, usually made from the pith of rushes, was suspended from a horizontal rod over the mold when the tallow was poured in. After the fall of the Roman Empire, when olive oil became increasingly scarce, and therefore expensive, the use of tallow candles spread across Western Europe. Later wax candles made from various plant extracts replaced tallow as the preferred source of illumination.

In Africa and the Middle East, candle-making remained relatively unknown due to the availability of olive oil for burning in lamps.

Yak butter was used for candles in Tibet[4]

Making candles for timekeeping

Although candles could not be used to find a specific time they were instrumental in able to indicate passage of predetermined periods of time. For example the Anglo-Saxon king Alfred the Great (c. 849 - 899) used graduated candles, later known as candle-clocks. He used this candle to divide up his day into equal periods of study and prayer, royal duties, and rest. There were lines around the side to show the passing of each hour.[5] Later, 24-hour candles were invented based on the same concept.[6] During the Sung dynasty in China (960–1279) calibrated candles and sticks of incense measured time. The concept of this clock utilized six different threads with weights on the end. These were draped over an incense stick at regular intervals and as the incense burned, the threads simultaneously burned one by one and the weights dropped onto a sounding plate below. Sometimes the sticks of incense had varying scents so that hours were marked by a change in fragrance.

The first use of calibrated candles for time keeping in England was 870.

The candle clock was also used as a timer. A heavy nail inserted onto the candle at the indicated mark would fall down onto a hard surface after the wax surrounding the nail melted.[7]

Profession of Candle Making

Candles were also commonplace in many households scattered throughout Europe. In England and France candle making had become a guild graft by the 13th century. These candle makers (chandlers) went from house to house making candles from fats saved from the kitchen or sold their own candles from within their shops.

Candle moulding machine in Indonesia circa 1920

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 ordinance in several cities. The first candle mould comes from 15th century Paris[citation needed].

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.[8]

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 landed in a bowl.

The growth of the whaling industry in the late 18th century brought about Spermaceti, oil that comes from sperm whale. This was the first major change in candle making since the Middle Ages. Spermaceti was a wax obtained by crystallizing the oil of a sperm whale. It became available in mass quantities. Like beeswax, the spermaceti wax did not elicit a repugnant odor when burned, and produced a significantly brighter light. It also was harder than either tallow or beeswax, so it wouldn't soften or bend in the summer heat. Historians note that the first "standard candles" were made from spermaceti wax. By 1800, a much cheaper alternative was discovered. Colza oil, derived from Brassica campestris, and a similar oil derived from rapeseed, yielded candles that produce clear, smokeless flames. The French chemists Michel Eugène 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).[9]

In 1834, Joseph Morgan began to industrialise the production of candles. He created a machine that allowed for continuous production of molded candles by using a cylinder with a moveable piston to eject candles as they solidified. This more efficient mechanized production produced about 1,500 candles per hour which allowed candles to become an easily affordable commodity for the masses.[10]

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.[11] Paraffin could be used to make inexpensive candles of high quality. Paraffin was also processed by distilling residue left after crude petroleum was refined. It was a bluish-white wax, which was able to burn cleanly, and leave no unpleasant odor, something the predecessor could not achieve like the tallow candles. Although paraffin had a low melting point the discovery of stearic acid solved this problem. Stearic acid was hard and very durable which helped elevate the melting point of paraffin. It was being produced in mass quantity at the end of the 19th century. By this period, most candles being manufactured consisted of paraffin and stearic acid.

Decline of Candles

Despite advances in candle making, the candle industry was devastated soon after by the distillation of kerosene (a fuel used in lamps) and the 1879 invention of the Light bulb. 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.[12] His aim was to make candles from coconut oil.[13] 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. In 1919, Lever Brothers purchased Price's 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.

Candles for timekeeping

A form of candle-clock was used in coal-mining until the 20th century.

Candles here are used to celebrate a birthday.

20th Century

As candles started to wane as the major light source due to the introduction of the light bulb, they became a more decorative item. Candles were suddenly available in a broad array of sizes, shapes and colors, and consumer interest in scented candles began to escalate. During the 1990s, new types of candle waxes were being developed due to an unusually high demand for candles. In the U.S., agricultural chemists began to develop soybean wax which was a softer and slower burning wax than paraffin. On the other side of the globe, efforts were underway to develop palm wax for use in candles.


  1. ^ a b c d e Telesco, Patricia (2001). Exploring Candle Magick: Candle Spells, Charms, Rituals, and Divinations. Career Press. p. 10. ISBN 1564145220. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ogHORLtm3KAC&pg=PA10&dq=wax+boiling+cinnamon+candle&as_brr=3&sig=tiI6EMFlQa8qc-8HN8J7qfUXS3k. 
  2. ^ Dawson, Raymond. (2007). Sima Qian: The First Emperor; Selections from the Historical Records. Preface by K.E. Brashier. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0199226342.
  3. ^ a b c Needham, Joseph. (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 4, Physics and Physical Technology, Part 1, Physics. Taipei: Caves Books Ltd. Pages 79–80.
  4. ^ http://picasaweb.google.com/mishalin77/082702#5111013648927170082
  5. ^ Tappan, Eva (2006). In the Days of Alfred the Great. Yesterday's Classics. pp. 226–227. ISBN 1599150352. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=YXK5ZdBGJqkC&pg=PA227&dq=%22Alfred+the+Great%22+candle&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a&sig=Lkwq0bHXxPUcg3Q4-B9RAVWUcKA#PPA227,M1. 
  6. ^ Dohrn-van Rossum, Gerhard; Thomas Dunlap (1996). History of the Hour: Clocks and Modern Temporal Orders. University of Chicago Press. p. 59. ISBN 0226155102. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=53K32RiEigMC&pg=PA59&dq=twenty+four+hour+candle&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a&sig=A_aJCvReonRsbiofOwNSwynihJg. 
  7. ^ Bedini, Silvio A. (1994). The Trail of Time: Time Measurement with Incense in East Asia. Cambridge University Press. p. 54. ISBN 0521374820. http://books.google.com/books?id=xdVkzs6iI1YC&pg=PA54&dq=dynasty+sung+candle+clock&lr=&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a&sig=TBfC05FfyGa9GZ7WhgyPFGijoxU. 
  8. ^ Mays, Dorothy A. (2004). Women in Early America: Struggle, Survival, and Freedom in a New World. ABC-CLIO. p. 438. ISBN 1851094296. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=UYWs-GQDiOkC&pg=PA438&dq=bayberries+candle+america&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a&sig=eIyGTufEKFnUh29PWAdjhPQwSiA. 
  9. ^ Thompson, Holland (2003). Age of Invention: Chronicles of America Part 37. Kessinger Publishing. pp. 28–29. ISBN 0766160130. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ejhykSbtDDAC&pg=PA29&dq=Joseph+Sampson+patent+candle&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a&sig=_m_Hrd20IAXJLIay27XCMpJnplo#PPA29,M1. 
  10. ^ Phillips, Gordon (1999). Seven Centuries of Light: The Tallow Chandlers Company. Book Production Consultants plc. p. 74. ISBN 1857570642. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=OWt03_on0qUC&pg=PA74&dq=Joseph+Morgan+candles+1834&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a&sig=4YXvX0eEdKqze7B13yQiKehrgjs. 
  11. ^ Golan, Tal (2004). Laws of Men and Laws of Nature: The History of Scientific Expert Testimony in England and America. Harvard University Press. pp. 89–91. ISBN 0674012860. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=kQhYsAmcj-EC&pg=PA90&dq=james+young+patent+paraffin&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a&sig=GVRHQw_E_JpKCMJyDIHh_0mY8uI#PPA90,M1. 
  12. ^ Ball, Michael; David Sunderland (2001). An Economic History of London, 1800-1914. Routledge. pp. 131–132. ISBN 0415246911. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=MI6JfTiEcdAC&pg=PA132&dq=Prices+Candles+Coconut&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a&sig=So7CcAanBJha_PZuwQsHDyhgyeo. 
  13. ^ http://bestonlinecandles.com/article/the-king-of-candles

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Candle — For other uses, see Candle (disambiguation). A close up image of a burning candle showing the wick and the various parts of the flame …   Wikipedia

  • History of chemistry — History of science …   Wikipedia

  • History of Portugal (1415–1542) — History of Portugal caption=Prince Henry, the Navigator: For additional context, see History of Portugal and Portuguese Empire. During the history of Portugal (1415 1542), Portugal discovered an eastern route to India that rounded the Cape of… …   Wikipedia

  • History of timekeeping devices — For thousands of years, devices have been used to measure and keep track of time. The current sexagesimal system of time measurement dates to approximately 2000 BC, in Sumer. The Ancient Egyptians divided the day into two 12 hour periods, and… …   Wikipedia

  • Candle in the Wind 1997 — Infobox Single Name = Candle in the Wind 1997 Cover size = Caption = Artist = Elton John Album = A side = Something About the Way You Look Tonight Candle in the Wind 1997 B side = You Make History Released = 1997 Format = Recorded = September… …   Wikipedia

  • History of film — This article is about the history of cinema. For other uses, see History of photography. Years in film 1870s 1880s 1890s …   Wikipedia

  • History of electromagnetism — The history of electromagnetism, that is the human understanding and recorded use of electromagnetic forces, dates back over two thousand years ago, see Timeline of electromagnetism. The ancients must have been acquainted with the effects of… …   Wikipedia

  • Candle clock — A candle clock is a thin candle with consistently spaced markings (usually with numbers), that when burned, indicate the passage of periods of time. While no longer used today, candle clocks provided an effective way to tell time indoors, at… …   Wikipedia

  • History of Virginia — The recorded History of Virginia began with settlement of the geographic region now known as the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States thousands of years ago by Native Americans. Permanent European settlement did not occur until the… …   Wikipedia

  • Candle (novel) — infobox Book | name = Candle title orig = translator = image caption = author = John Barnes illustrator = cover artist = country = United States language = English series = Century Next Door genre = Science fiction novel publisher = Tor Books… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.