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A Short History of Candles

Candle Origins

Before candles were a popular way to relax in the bath, to add fragrance to your home or create a romantic atmosphere, they were actually used primarily for their function – to give light, and heat.

Candles have been used to illuminate for thousands of years, but very little is known about their origin. What we do know, is that the first candles were not wicked, as modern candles are. It is thought that the first candles were developed by the ancient Egyptians in 3,000 B.C.E, who created torches by soaking reeds in animal fats which acted as a kind of wick. Other evidence suggests that the earliest candles were made in China during the Qin Dynasty, using whale fat, and it has also been suggested that India may have begun using candles around the same time, using the waxy residue that is left when cinnamon is boiled. Regardless of which culture should be credited with creating this first candle prototype, it is generally agreed among historians that it was ancient Romans who first developed the wick. Their process involved dipping rolled papyrus into melted fat or beeswax until the candle reached a suitable size. The candles were then used primarily in religious ceremonies, to light homes at night, and to aid travellers who moved during the night. We know from Biblical sources, as well as Jewish records that candles (presumably without a wick) have been an important part of religious ceremonies since at least 165 B.C.E.

Once the Romans had created the wicked candle, many more tried their hand at creating candles using different fuels and wick materials. One of the most common materials used, which is still in use today, is beeswax. The Chinese used beeswax in their candle making from an early time. In the 18th century, the onset of whaling allowed candle makers to access spermaceti – the crystalized sperm oil from a whale. This replaced the use of other animal fats and was preferred over other fats as it didn’t produce a bad smell or large quantities of smoke.

It wasn’t until the mid-19th century, when a young chemist named James Young refined paraffin wax by distilling coal. Because paraffin wax burns so clearly without odor, and was available cheaply, candles soon became a common household item. Around this time, wick creation was also improved, as different papers were used (as well as flax, hemp and cotton) and infused with chemicals that helped control the speed of burning.

Once the art of candle making had improved, candles also began to be used as a way of marking time. Since candles have a relatively steady burning rate, candle timers were marked with lines to depict how many hours had passed since the candle started burning.

With candles giving way to the invention of the lightbulb in 1879, lighting was no longer needed using candles. While candle making declined, they never went into extinction. They simply changed their function.

Modern Candles

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The growth of the United States oil and meat-packing industries during the first half of the 20th century meant an increase in the availability of candle-making ingredients such as paraffin. Though the use of candles declined over time, falling largely into disuse, they enjoyed a renewed popularity, no longer used for necessity, but for pleasure.

The popularity of candles increased well into the 1980s, as candles were enjoyed as decorative household items, ambience creators and were a popular choice for gifts. Candles were now produced in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. As the consumer interest in candles increased, scented candles were born.

The next ten years saw a strong surge in the interest and production of scented candles, as well as wide experimentation with new types of candle waxes, including palm wax, and soy.

Candles Today

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Though candles are no longer used as our major source of light at night, they have continued to grow in popularity and use. Today candles are used in cakes to celebrate, to set the mood for a romantic evening, to decorate a space with color, and to fill a room with fresh scent.

To look at our wide range of clean, fresh scents including “Amber Romance,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and much more, visit www.TheSunGarden.com

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