The History of Candles

Candle in front of EncyclopediaDid you know: Candles have been used as a source of light for more than 5,000 years, but little is known about their origin.

The earliest candle usage is often attributed to Ancient Egyptians, who made torches by soaking reed cores in melted animal fat. Historians have also found evidence of early civilizations using waxes from plants and insects.

In 500BC, Romans began making true dipped candles made of tallow (cow and sheep meat), and the earliest surviving candles are from Han, China around 200BC made from fat. Fast forward a few years to 165BC, when the Hanukkah Festival of Lights centered around lighting candles.

In 13th century Europe, Candlemakers—called Chandlers—went house to house making candles for people out of kitchen wax. In the 18th and 19th centuries, spermaceti (from the Sperm Whale) was made to burn longer and brighter—and it had no offensive smell. This was a big turning point in producing mass market candles, and they became truly industrialized in the mid-19th century.

Lighting a Candle

In the 1800s, candlemaking was a common practice. In 1834 Joseph Morgan from Manchester, England, patented a machine that would revolutionize candle making. Using a cylinder and moveable piston to eject candles as they solidified, Morgan’s machine could produce 1,500 candles an hour. This allowed candles to become affordable for the masses. In the 1850s, James Young, a chemist from Scotland successfully distilled paraffin wax from coal and oil shales. This became the most inexpensive and commercially viable method and is still what Yankee Candles uses today.

With the production of the kerosene lamp in 1853 and light bulbs in 1879, candlemaking took a turn. No longer needed as a source of light, candles became a luxury item.

Today, they continue to grow in popularity and use, symbolizing celebrations, igniting love, and accenting homes around the world.