Did you know that candles have been a source of light for over 5000 years? From the small votive flickering inside a majestic gothic architectural cathedral, to the oh-so-treasured (and much needed) odor eliminating candle glowing on our kitchen counter, the warm and inviting radiance of candles have been caressing our senses and illuminating grand human celebrations for centuries.
The history of the candle is composed of some of the most deliciously fragrant, vibrantly colorful, and interesting facts. Fascinating, complex, and sometimes even surprising, not only are candles a head turning ambiance, but they have also held a superior role in the illumination of our society.
- The ancient Romans invented wicked candles.
The existence of the wicked candle has been credited to the ancient Romans, similarly to many differing aspects of modern life. They also gave us the word “candle” (from the Latin candela, meaning torch). When candles were first produced, it involved tallow wax, which was derived from the fat and grease of cows and sheep, a roll of papyrus, and an unwound strand of twine. We’ve thankfully moved on to candles that smell like exotic beach getaways, but in the ancient times, they were stuck with the scent of burning fat.
Fun Fact: It has been said that some of the first candles were used to celebrate the birth of Artemis, the Greek goddess of the moon and the hunt, because the flame was thought to represent the supernatural glow of moonlight while the smoke carried prayers up to the goddess.
- Early Christians adopted candles to enhance the splendor of religious ceremonies.
The early Church saw the light and significance of candles as well as recognizing the beauty of the flame, so they opted to use candles in their own rites as well.
Since around the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine (306 and 337 A.D.), candles have been used in the Church as a visible sign of joy, sacred humanity, sacrifice, as well as to be aesthetically pleasing. As early Christians realized the value of the candle in worship, they are prescribed to be lit for all Masses worldwide.
Featured: Sarah Clifford Owen, founder of The Worthington Collection, a luxury odor eliminating candle brand, featured on ABC10 Your California Life, describes a brief history of candles and how she began her journey as a candle maker live on ABC10
- Candles have been used for food.
Because the first candles were made from animal fat and beeswax, candles were considered edible, as they were technically. Throughout history, there was often periods marked with hunger across entire nations and it was not uncommon due to the vulnerable agriculture that candles were used for this purpose.
- Candles have been used for time.
Candles were used as timers because of their relatively slow and steady burning rate. Candle “timers” were marked on the outside with indented lines that represented hours or whole days on the large candles. As the candle burned to the mark, melted wax would release the weight that was placed there and it would fall on a metal plate, marking the time interval with a sound.
- The 18th and 19th Century majorly modernized candles.
In the 18th century, candle making evolved along with the growth in whaling. Sperm whales have a substance in their heads called spermaceti and it can be used to make candles after it has crystallized.
Spermaceti was available in huge quantities due to the dramatic increase in whaling. It was preferred over to tallow because it wouldn’t melt as fast in hot weather and did not have the unpleasant smell that tallow was infamous for. Though this is a part of history; we whole heartily prefer vegan and cruelty free candles.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that candle making received a more modern update. In the 1820s, a French chemist extracted a component called stearic acid from animal fatty acids which led to the development of a hard, cleaner wax called stearin.
In 1834, industrialized candles came to be. A candle from a mold went into production through machinery and candles were then mass-produced at a low cost. Fast-forward to the1850s and chemists separated paraffin from petroleum and refined it into the standard we know as paraffin wax.
In 1879, the light bulb was invented and candle making went into a severe decline for more than 100 years.
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6. The light bulb brought about scented candles.
After the invention of the light bulb, candles came to be viewed as a decorative item despite its historic record of functionality.
Candles of all different shapes, sizes and colors were brought to the market and the first scented candle was released. By the mid 1980's candles were undoubtedly established as mood elevators, luxury gifts and decorative centerpieces.
The evolution of the candle has come a long way. From civilizations producing wax from insects, olive oil, and other plants, to handcrafted luxury candles made with pure, simple ingredients, candles have remained a cherished household item despite the industry taking a dip in the middle.
Odor eliminating candles have brought back their functionality position in the market, specifically ones that use toxin-free waxes like coconut and apricot waxes, as these top sellers create a smooth burn, providing the perfect canvas for fragrance combinations such as velvety scents of jasmine and geranium or a mix of mint and vanilla sugar.
Candles have proven that, whether they are adding a finishing touch to a room, providing a magical glow to our favorite space, or working to eliminate odors throughout the home, they’re a beautiful and practical addition to any home and we’ll continue to use them for years to come.