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The History of Candles

Candles have been around for over 5,000 years. The ancient Romans are generally credited with developing the wicked candle. They dipped rolled papyrus in melted tallow or beeswax and used these early candles to light their homes, to aid travelers at night, and in religious ceremonies. Many other early civilizations also used wicked candles: Early Chinese candles were molded in paper tubes and used rice paper wicks with wax made from an indigenous insect combined with seeds. Early Japanese candles used wax made from tree nuts, while early Indian candle wax was made from the boiled fruit of the cinnamon tree. The ancient Egyptians also used wax candles. Early candles were also used for religious ceremonies around the world; for example, Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, dates back to 165 B.C. Emperor Constantine is also said to have called for the use of candles during an Easter service in the 4th century. Most early candles used animal fat (tallow), but in the Middle Ages, beeswax candles were introduced. These candles smelled far better and did not produce a smoky flame; however, they were expensive and mostly used by the wealthy or during religious ceremonies. Colonial women in America created bayberry candles, but due to the tediousness of the process, their popularity quickly waned. The growth of the whaling industry in the late 18th century gave rise to candles made from spermaceti (a wax made by crystallizing sperm whale oil). In the 1820s, French chemist Michel Eugene Chevreul made a discovery that led to the development of stearin wax and in 1834, Joseph Morgan invented a machine that made the mass production of candles possible. In the 1850s, a more economical candle fuel was introduced — paraffin wax. After the introduction of the lightbulb in 1879, candlemaking began to decline, but saw a revival in the early 20th century as the growth of the U.S. oil and meatpacking industries resulted in an increased supply of paraffin and stearic acid. Consumer interest in candles as decorative items and gifts increased sharply in the 1980s, and the 1990s saw the introduction of soybean wax candles. Today, candles continue to be a popular item and are available in many scents.

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