History of Candle Making

Ann Gammie


"The best known, if not the oldest, history referring to wax is the story of Icarus who used beeswax to saddle his wings and escape, with his father Dédale, from the labyrinth where Minos had locked them up. Unfortunately Icarus did not respect the instructions of his father and approached too near the sun, the wax melted, and Icarus fell down and died at sea"

Ancient Origins

The long history of candles can be traced back to 3000 BC and is a truly interesting read. So much so that I encourage you to read more from The National Candle Association, and Apis Cera, where I credit all my information from.

Although the exact origin is not know, candle type apparatus has been used for celebrations and illumination, recorded as far back as 5000 years! The first candles were recognized in Ancient Egypt, by way of torches and rushlights with reeds soaked in animal fat. However these candles were not wicked and Egypt did not start using a wicked candle until 3000 BC.

The Romans were said to have created the first wicked candle by dipping rolled papyrus repeatedly in melted tallow (a specific animal fat) or beeswax. Some people still use these products to this day.

Many civilizations developed wicked candles using waxes made from plants and insects. The early Chinese candles are said to have been molded in paper tubes, using rolled rice paper for the wick, and wax from an indigenous insect that was combined with seeds. In Japan, candles were made of wax extracted from tree nuts, while in India, candle wax was made by boiling the fruit of the cinnamon tree.

Middle Ages

After the collapse of the Roman empire, trading disruptions made olive oil, the most common fuel for oil lamps, unavailable throughout much of Europe. As a consequence, candles became more widely used. Beeswax candles were introduced in Europe. Unlike animal-based tallow, beeswax burned pure and clean, without producing a smoky flame. It also emitted a pleasant sweet smell rather than the foul, acrid odor of tallow.

Tallow candles were the common household candle for Europeans, and by the 13th century, candle making had become a guild craft in England and France. The candle makers (chandlers) went from house to house making candles from the kitchen fats saved for that purpose, or made and sold their own candles from small candle shops.

Colonial Era

Colonial women offered America’s first contribution to candle making, when they discovered that boiling the grayish-green berries of bayberry bushes produced a sweet-smelling wax that burned cleanly. However, extracting the wax from the bayberries was extremely tedious. As a result, the popularity of bayberry candles soon diminished.

The growth of the whaling industry in the late 18th century brought the first major change in candle making since the Middle Ages, when spermaceti — a wax obtained by crystallizing sperm whale oil — became available in quantity. Like beeswax, the spermaceti wax did not elicit a repugnant odor when burned, and produced a significantly brighter light. It also was harder than either tallow or beeswax, so it wouldn’t soften or bend in the summer heat. Historians note that the first “standard candles” were made from spermaceti wax.

19th Century

In the 1820s, French chemist Michel Eugene Chevreul discovered how to extract stearic acid from animal fatty acids which led to the development of stearin wax. A hard, durable wax that burned cleanly. Stearin candles remain popular in Europe today.

In 1834, inventor Joseph Morgan developed a machine that allowed for continuous production of molded candles introducing mechanized production and so candles became an easily affordable commodity for the masses.

Paraffin wax was introduced in the 1850s, after chemists learned how to efficiently separate the naturally-occurring waxy substance from petroleum and refine it, but with the introduction of the light bulb in 1879, candle making began to decline.

Modern Times

Candles enjoyed renewed popularity during the first half of the 20th century, when the growth of U.S. oil and meatpacking industries brought an increase in the byproducts that had become the basic ingredients of candles – paraffin and stearic acid.

The popularity of candles remained steady until the mid-1980s, when interest in candles as decorative items, mood-setters and gifts began to increase notably. Candles were suddenly available in a broad array of sizes, shapes and colors, and consumer interest in scented candles began to escalate.

The 1990s the U.S., agricultural chemists began to develop soybean wax, a softer and slower burning wax than paraffin. On the other side of the globe, efforts were underway to develop palm wax for use in candles.



Today, candles symbolize a years passing on a birthday, to ignite romance, create intimacy or enhance relaxation.

They serve to soothe the senses, honor a ceremony, and accent home decors — casting a warm and lovely glow for all to enjoy.

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