The candle is the oldest means to supplying light. Although a number of changes have been made to methods of candle manufacture, there is no basic difference between a candle made in the past and one made today. References to lighting candles date back to ancient times as early as 3000 BC in Crete and Egypt. Candles are mentioned in Biblical writings as early as the tenth century BC. A fragment of candle from the first century AD has been found in Avignon, France.
Candles were used in great halls, monasteries and churches of medieval times. In addition, candles were used to light cottages and shops. King Alfred of England stuck torches in walls to supply lighting. The simplest (and smelliest) candles known as rush light were made by dipping rushes in leftover kitchen fat. For many centuries, candles were considered expensive items in Europe. Town-made candles from the wax-chandler were available for those who could afford them. These candles were made of wax or animal fat and were placed in silver, wooden or pewter candlesticks.
Until the 19th century however, tallow candles and rushlights were the principal form of light for the poor. The slaughter of one bullock provided enough tallow for three years’ worth of candles and a well organised household could produce 300 or so at a candle making session.
In the 13th Century in Paris, members of the guild of tallow chandlers went from house to house making candles.
In the 15th Century the sieur de Brez of Paris revolutionised the business by inventing the candle mould.Beeswax however was unsuitable for these moulds and until the 20th century with the discovery of silicon releasing agents, it has always been shaped by dipping. In France & Britain, the Guild of Wax Chandlers was created to protect beeswax workers from taint by association with tallow chandlers.
In 1709 in Britain, candles were taxed and people forbidden from making their own. This punitive tax was eventually repealled in 1831, resulting in a renaissance of decorative candles.
It was not until new alternatives were looming when frenchman M. Chevereul purified tallow by treating it with alkali & sulphuric acid thus creating a clean-burning stearin candle which was long-lasting.
M. Cambaceres another Frenchman devised the plaited wick in 1825. This he steeped in mineral salts to make it curve on burning, thereby obviating the need to trim wicks.
In 1834 Joseph Morgan created a candle making machine which could produce up to 1500 candles an hour. In 1850, parrafin wax appeared, shortly followed in 1857 with the combination of stearin & the plaited wick resulting in a bright affordable candle.
The ninetenth century brought the development of patented candlemaking machines, making candles available for the poorest homes. In an attempt to protect the industry, England passed a law forbidding the making of candles at home without purchase of a special licence. At this time, a chemist named Michel Eugene Chevreul made an important discovery. He realized that tallow was not one substance but a composition of two fatty acids, stearic acid and oleic acid, combined with glycerine to form a neutral non-flammable material.
By removing the glycerine from the tallow mixture, Chevreul invented a new substance called “stearine.” Stearine was harder than tallow and burned brighter and longer. It is this substance known today as stearin or stearic acid that led to the improvement of candle quality. Stearin also made improvements in the manufacture of wicks possible. It put an end to the constant round of snuffing and trimming wicks once they were lit. Instead of being made of simply twisted strands of cotton, wicks were now plaited tightly; the burned portion curled over and was completely consumed, rather than falling messily into the melting wax.
More improvements such as the addition of lime, palmatine, and paraffin developed in commercial candle manufacture. Paraffin wax was extracted from crude oil . It equalled beeswax and spermaceti candles for brightness and hardness and were cheaper. Paraffin wax is still widely used today in commercial candlemaking.