The word "candle" is derived from the Latin word "candela", which is the name the Romans gave to a torch of rolled papyrus drenched in animal fat and wax.
In past times soldiers carried candles, made from tallow, for light and in extreme situations they were a source of nourishment, to be eaten.
In the Museum of Sciences in London demonstrations can be seen of how candles were used, up to the Second World War, as a formal means to measure time.
For centuries, candles have cast a light on man's progress even though there is very little known about the origin of candles. It is often written that the first candles were developed by the Ancient Egyptians who used rush-lights, or torches, made by soaking the pithy core of reeds in molten tallow, the rush-lights had no wick like a candle. It is the Romans who are credited with developing the wick candle, using it to aid travellers at dark, and lighting homes and places of worship at night.
Like the early Egyptians, the Romans relied on tallow, (hard fat) gathered from cattle or sheep suet, as the principal ingredient of candles. It was not until the Middle Ages when beeswax, a substance secreted by honey bees to make their honeycombs, was introduced. Beeswax candles were a marked improvement over those made with tallow, for they did not produce a smoky flame, or emit an acrid odour when burned. Instead, beeswax candles burned pure and clean. However, they were expensive, and, therefore, only the wealthy could afford them.
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 odour when burned. Furthermore, spermaceti wax was found harder than both tallow and beeswax. It did not soften or bend in the summer heat. Historians note that the first "standard candles" were made from spermaceti wax.
In 1834, inventor Joseph Morgan introduced a machine which allowed continuous production of moulded candles by the use of a cylinder which featured a movable piston that ejected candles as they solidified. In 1850 the production of paraffin wax made from oil and coal shale had arrived.
Processed by distilling the residues left after crude petroleum was refined, the bluish-white wax was found to burn cleanly with no unpleasant odour but most importantly, paraffin wax, was a lot cheaper than any preceding candle fuel. The low melting point of paraffin poses a threat to its popularity but the discovery of stearic acid solved this problem. Hard and durable, stearic acid was added to "quality candles" being manufactured at that time and still so today.
With the introduction of the light bulb in 1879, candle making declined until the turn of the century when a renewed popularity for candles emerged; especially so in Northern Europe and North America.
In the first half of the 20th century manufacturing costs were lowered once more through the growth of crude oil and meat production by-products, which are the basic ingredients of contemporary candles - paraffin and stearic acid.
Candles have been a cherished part of beloved traditions and celebrations for centuries. They come in all shapes and sizes to fit every need or occasion. Today, candles symbolize celebration, mark romance, define ceremony, and accent decor, giving a warm glow for all to enjoy.
Candles have continued to grow in popularity and use.