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History of Candle Making

No one person is credited for the invention of the candle. This is because candles were created on an independent basis, by people in many different countries.

The first candles were made of beeswax. We know this because they have been found during excavations of ancient Egypt and Crete. Amazingly, these were created around 3000 BC. The Egyptians not only made candles, but candle holders as well. These were made of clay, and date back to the 4th century BC.

Qui Shi Huang, the very first emperor to rule the Qin Dynasty, was found to have candles in his mausoleum. When this mausoleum was discovered near Xi'an, China in the 1990's, excavators were amazed to find candles that were produced from whale fat. Since we know that this emperor ruled from 221 - 206 BC, it is amazing to think about how old these candles were.

The early Chinese and Japanese tapers were made of many things, including wax from various seeds, and insects. In India, wax for candles was made by boiling cinnamon. The candles made from this wax was used to illuminate Indian temples.

In the United States, it is likely that American Indians made the first US candles out of the Smelt, or Candlefish. The fossils of this fish have been found in areas from Oregon, all the way to Alaska. These candles date back to the first century, and were made by using the oil of this fish. The process of extracting this oil was simple. Place the fish on a stick, and then light the stick.

The oldest surviving candle in Europe comes from Avignon, France, and dates back to the 1st century AD. King Alfred was the first to use a candle clock. This was a candle that burned for a period of four hours. The candle was marked with lines that would tell when an hour had passed. Eventually, twenty-four hour candle clocks would be created.

In China, the Sung dynasty also used a variation of the candle clock. Their version was slightly different, as they placed small weights in the sides of the candles. As time passed, and the candle would melt, these weights would be released, and fall into a bowl. This noise told those nearby that an hour has passed. The candle clock actually continued to be used for a long time, and it's last known use was by coal miners in the 20th century.

Eventually, tallow, or the fat that comes from a cow or sheep, became the standard making material of those in Europe. The first commercial candle company was likely the Tallow Chandlers. This company opened in 1300 in London. The service they provided was extremely valuable. So valuable in fact, that they were granted one of the highest honors, a coat of arms, in 1456.

Tallow candles did not put off a pleasing odor, and were replaced with beeswax candles for use in churches, as well as royal ceremonies. Speaking of odor, when the first candle molds were created in 15th century Paris, the candle making process was so foul smelling, that some cities actually banned candle makers from making them.

The American colonists made candles as well. No one knows how they discovered that bayberries would produce wax, but this is what they used. This was a time consuming process, and one that took a lot of bayberries to create a candles. Once reduced, fifteen pounds of berries would yield only a single pound of wax. The fat of a sperm whale could also be used, but of course this was hard to come by, and quite expensive.

The 1800's is when candle making really started advancing. Brassica campestris, which is a product of grape seed, was found to yield colza oils. This oil made for virtually smokeless flames. Stearin was patented in 1811 by two French chemists, Michel-Eugene Chevreul and Joseph-Louis Gay-Lussac. Stearin was like tallow, in that it came from animals, but it did not contain the glycerine that made tallow candles smell bad.

The second candle patent ever granted in the United States was issued to Joseph Sampson. This patent was for a specific candle making method. Soon after, William Colgate, established the first tallow factory in New York in 1806. Colgate also produced soap, and eventually made the switch to producing soap only.

The first industrialized production of candles took place in 1834 when Joseph Morgan invented the first candle making machine. This machine would produce fifteen hundred candles per hour. The candles were formed in a mold, and made from parrafin and palm oil. Parrafin had been taken from schist in 1830, and later from coal tar in 1835. James Young was the first to patent the coal tar version of parrafin, and it became commerically available in 1850.

After this, candles took several more twists and turns. They were produced with coconut oil, palm oil, and petroleum oil. Candle wicks, and candle stands advanced right along with the candle. Eventually we come to what we have today, a plethora of beautiful and great smelling candles that make our homes feel more cozy and comfortable.



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