In the beginning, primal man discovered fire and the fears of the unseen perils of the night were conquered. Fire became a source of light and provided heat. Later it also enabled man to eat cooked food. As time went by, tool-making and iron-working were mastered. Fire baskets, also called cressets were made to transport light; they were filled with wood and kept burning for hours. Finally torches were invented. They were made of strips of resinous wood attached to a long pole and repeatedly dipped in tallow, derived from cattle or sheep fat, in order to increase burning time.
For hundreds of years fire baskets and torches were the only source of illumination. They were rather crude, smoky, labor consuming and expended an abundance of material. Still in many societies, over the years, the growing need for indoor light led to ingenious and sometimes even cruel means of providing it. At one time, entire animals were wicked and used as candles. Storm Petrel (a fatty bird), Candlefish of the American Northwest, and Dogfish tails were all burned to create light.
By medieval times candle making had become a registered trade. Two guilds were formed, The Tallow Chandlers in 1462, that used cattle fat as fuel, and The Wax Chandlers in 1484, that used the more expensive beeswax. Beeswax is obtained from insect secretions and was considered a better candle fuel than tallow, since it burned cleaner and had a better smell. Beeswax was expensive and hard to come by, therefore only the wealthy and Churches could afford it.
Until the beginning of the 18th Century, candles were mostly made in monasteries and homes. The method was simple; wicks were repeatedly dipped into melted tallow until the desired thickness was achieved. The killing of one bull would provide enough tallow to make approximately one thousand candles. In 1709 a British legislation forbade candle making at home and candles became subject to taxation. In 1821 these laws were revoked resulting in a resurgence in candle making.
In 1823 a new discovery was made by a Frenchman named Chevreul, who added alkili and sulphuric acid to tallow, producing a cleaner, more lasting and stable flame. The new concoction was called stearin and is still in use today. In 1825, another Frenchman by the name of Cambeceres invented the braided wick, which became the solution to the problem of uneven burning. Unlike single wicks, the braided kind does not have to be trimmed as the candle burns down.
The Industrial Revolution saw the invention of the candle making machine by Joseph Morgan in 1834. The machine could produce up to 1500 molded candles in one hour. As a result of this mass production, candles became affordable. However, it wasn't until 1857, with the arrival of paraffin, refined from crude oil, that candle making became what it is today. Paraffin wax burns cleanly and without an unpleasant odor. Its use together with stearin, braided wicks, colors and scents has revolutionized the industry.
With the advent of electricity as a primary source of light, candles were no longer a necessity. Nowadays, they have become an inherent part of the decor of our homes, their flames rekindling the nostalgia of times gone by. Candles symbolize warmth, romance and induce relaxation. Their flickering light enhances the aura of our surroundings.
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