The history of the candle making methods used throughout time

by Rodger Cresswell - Date: 2007-01-26 - Word Count: 453 Share This!

How many times have you lit a candle and wondered about how it all began? Is it down to one culture and country? The answer is that any written history of the candle making of today and back into the past has to include many countries and cultures.

As far back as 3000BC we know the Egyptians were making candles out of beeswax, a type of candle that is still popular today. Around 200BC the Chinese used whale fat for their candles and, as we are too well aware, whales continued to provide blubber and oil for lamps until they have become an endangered species.

Middle Age Europe saw tallow candles grow in popularity. Tallow, which is fat from cows or sheep, became the standard material used in candles and The Tallow Chandlers Company of London was formed in about 1300. By 1415, tallow candles were used in street lighting. However the glycerine in tallow candle produced an unpleasant smell and hence beeswax candles were used for churches and royal events. If tallow candles were so unpleasant to burn, just imagine how unpleasant the smell must have been during manufacture! It was so unpleasant that the processing of fat to produce tallow for candles was banned in many areas.

American colonists made candles from bayberries but the yield was very poor. It is said that it takes about 15 pounds of bayberries to make just one pound of bayberry wax. Bayberry wax is also known as bayberry tallow or myrtle wax and is the rarest of all candle waxes. Bayberry wax has an earthy fragrance and dries to an olive green colour.

Around 1750, very expensive candles were being produced from spermaceti, found in the the head cavity of the sperm whale. Clearly cheaper alternatives were required and by 1800 an alternative was indeed discovered. Derived from plant material, the candles produced clear, smokeless flames. A further breakthrough in 1811 by French chemists saw the production of stearin, like tallow derived from animals but with no glycerine content.

Price's Patent Candles Ltd. began manufacturing candles in 1830. By the end of the century the company was the largest maker of candles in the world. It made inexpensive stearine candles that burned almost as well as expensive beeswax candles. In 1834, Joseph Morgan began to industrialise the production of candles. He invented a machine to manufacture 1,500 per hour, from a mould. Already a succesful company, the introduction of mass production enabled Price's to dominate the nightlight market.

In 1850 the production of paraffin became commercially viable and enabled the manufacture of high quality but inexpensive candles.

Rodger Cresswell

Rodger Cresswell is Managing Director of Avondale Consultancy Limited and Consultant to JC Regali

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