This is a guide covering the invention of candles.
Have you ever wondered about the origin of candles? Who invented them?
If the use of candles was always the same as it is today or their use has evolved over the years?
This article explores the answers to the questions above in great detail!
Table of Contents
Who Invented Candles?
The origin of candles, unfortunately, can not be pinned down to a certain civilization or era.
Candles have been used by various civilizations over various time periods. What is clear is that the use of candles can be traced back to over 5000 years ago!
The Egyptians are known to have been using candles since 3000 BC and the Romans have been known to use them since 500 BC.
Although, the candles they used were immensely different than the candles we use today. The candles used back then are famously referred to as ‘wicked candles’ today.
The Chinese and Indians are also known to have used a variation of ‘wicked candles’.
They were different from the ones used by Egyptians and Romans because they were made using the materials available to them.
How Were Candles Invented?
Every civilization that used candles made their own variations of candles!
There is evidence that ancient Egyptians made candles using animal fat and reeds, whereby animal fat was used as candle wax and reeds as wicks.
Although reeds did not function as efficiently as the wicks we know today, they did the job.
These candles were often referred to as ‘rushlights’.
While the Egyptians widely used ‘wicked candles’, the Romans are credited for inventing wicked candles.
How did they make wicked candles?
They would dip rolled papyrus repeatedly in melted tallow or beeswax (note: tallow refers to melted beef or mutton fat).
That’s all it took to make their version of candles!
The Qin Dynasty is known to be the earliest civilization in ancient China to use candles.
They used them around 200 years B.C. and made these candles using whale fat.
Then, around 40 BC, the Chinese added wicks to their candles.
These wicks were made using rolled rice paper.
Moreover, they also started making wax from a combination of insects and seeds, in addition to whale fat.
During the middle ages, tallow became the standard product to make candles across Europe.
This was a result of the olive oil shortage which came with the fall of the Roman Empire. Consequently, people across Europe were forced to make candles out of tallow.
However, this practice did not last for too long due to the smell emitted from tallow candles.
Fun fact, tallow candle manufacturing was actually banned across many European cities because of the smell it emitted.
This action resulted in the usage of beeswax to make candles across many cities in Europe. The main reason for using beeswax was that it did not elicit any odour.
However, using beeswax to manufacture candles made them significantly more expensive.
This meant that candles could only be afforded by the wealthy.
Candles As We Know Them Today
It was not until 1879, when the first light bulb was invented, that candles were no longer the standard way in which people lit their homes and other spaces.
From then onwards, candles were used as decorative items.
Consequently, candles were then designed in a multitude of ways to appeal to people’s decorative needs!
Why Were Candles Invented
Initially candles were invented to serve as sources of light. This remained their primary purpose up until 1879 when the first light bulb was invented.
Apart from being used as light sources, candles have always served a crucial role in religious ceremonies.
They have been used since 165 B.C. in the Jewish Festival of Lights- Hanukkah.
Additionally, the Emperor of Constantine has been known to use candles during easter services since the 4th century.
In present day and age candles are no longer used as primary sources of light. However, they are predominantly used for aesthetic and decorative purposes!
Candles have a way of making you feel warm and cosy, while feeling fancy at the same time.
This is why many people enjoy lighting candles at the dinner table or while reading a book- the list is non exhaustive.
How Were Candles Made Back Then?
Each civilization had their own way of making candle wax. Even within civilizations variations arose across different time periods.
During 1st century China, a common type of candle was known as ‘candlefish’. This candle was made from a type of fish called eulachon.
During the spawning period, eulachons had a very high level of body fat. So once they were caught and dried, they could simply be lit and used as a candle.
Around 200 years B.C, in India, candle wax was made from the residue recovered after boiling cinnamon.
Whereas, across many regions in Western Europe, candle wax was made with tallow.
Then, around the 18th century a concept known as ‘whaling’ became increasingly popular to make candles.
Spermaceti, which is a waxy substance found in the head region of the sperm whale, is extracted from whales.
This substance was used as candle wax and it replaced tallow to a great extent.
Spermaceti was deemed a better fit to be used as candle wax because it was available in large quantities and it did not produce a foul odour like tallow.
Moreover, it also produced a brighter light.
After that came what could perhaps be known as a revolution in the candle industry. During the 1850s, James Young introduced paraffin wax.
This wax did not involve hunting animals, instead was produced by distilling coal.
Paraffin wax had several advantages over the waxes present then.
It was cheap and could be produced in great numbers. It did not emit any odour and being a white wax it burnt clearly.
Why Do Candles Need Wax?
To answer this question fully, we will have to delve into some basic scientific concepts.
Candle wax, regardless of the type, is made of hydrocarbons.
When you light a candle, the heat produced melts the wax near the wick and the liquid wax is then carried up the wick by capillary action.
The heat of the flame vapourizers the liquid wax and breaks down the hydrocarbons into hydrogen and carbon.
These vapourized molecules when drawn up to the flame react with oxygen, present in the air, to produce heat, light, carbon dioxide and water.
So, to answer the question above- candles need wax because wax is the fuel needed for the candle to perform its function.
Without the wax, there would be no candle!
We hope this article was informative for you!
If you have any more questions about who invented candles or how candles were made before the modern era, feel free to write to us!
Other than that, don’t forget to enjoy your candles!
My name is Candice and I have always loved candles since I was a kid. I continue to buy candles and try out new candle brands to this day! I started this blog to share my love of candles so I’m glad you’re here and hope that my content helps you out in some way!