According the magazine, Muy Interesante, in its Spanish version, candles were invented by the Egyptians between the XIII and XIV centuries AC; however, the materials used were very different. You would not believe it! Egyptians used steer or lamb tallow to light up their candles. The main purpose was to light up their homes or their way -for night travellers-, or for religious ceremonies.
Burnt tallow –surely- did not have a great smell, which is why; Egyptians used aromatics essences to neutralize the smell. And, although, we owe the creation of candles to the Egyptians, it was the Romans who introduced the wick for candles. This was a very small change but it had a huge impact in the industry. Some historians have discovered evidence that ancient civilizations develop candlewicks made of plant and insect wax. Unconfirmed information claims that Chinese people made candles in paper tubes using rice paper as candlewick.
In Japan, wax candles were made of nuts, while in India, wax candle was made by boiling fruit of cinnamon trees. In 165 AC, the use of candles played an important role in religious ceremonies. Traces can be found in the Jewish light festival, where light plays a central role in the ceremony of Hanukah. Even the Bible makes reference of the use of candle. Even the Emperor Constantin ordered the use of candles during the religious ceremony of Easter in the IV century.
“Candles were invented by the Egyptians between the XIII and XIV centuries AC”
However, it was not until the Middle Age period when candles were made the way we know them. Regarding the materials, tallow continued being used and bee wax was introduced for the first time. -It is known-, that bee wax combustion was clean and pure, without the production of smoke flame. As per the smell, the smell improved; it was better than the bad odour caused by animal tallow.
Bee wax was very popular in religious ceremonies, but it was a bit dear and very few people had the means to purchase it or only well-off people were able to use it at home. Materials did not change until the XVIII century, when whale sperm was introduced as a source of lighting; whale sperm made candlelights more luminous and did not have bad odour.
According to the National Candle Association, in 1820, the French chemist Michel Eugene Chevreul discovered how to extract stearic acid from animal tallow. Consequently, the ingenious discovery made the creation of stearic wax, which was more solid, durable and had a cleaner combustion. The use of stearic wax is very popular now days in Europe.
In 1850, paraffin wax was introduced, thanks to the experiments of chemists, who knew how to extract such petroleum product, in an efficient manner. Paraffin did not produce smell and had a white blue colour, such product made a boom in the candle industry, due to its low cost when compared to animal wax. Thus, candles were quickly replaced with the invention of light bulbs once discovered in 1879 and the whole candle industry started to go down.
In the 70´s, the industry of wax candle that was focused on the religious market, changed its customers, by offering designed candles and providing different fragrances, according to the AECM, European Association Candle Makers.
2 decades later, there was a reinvention of the candle and for the first time in more than a century, new types of candle wax was developed. In the USA, agricultural chemists developed soy wax. Soy wax is softer and its burning is slower that paraffin.
Finally, the candle path has been long throughout humankind, from its beginning. And, even if at present, its use is not a source of lighting, its use continues to grow in popularity. At present, lighting a candle is more associated to celebrations, provocation or romance, relaxation of senses, honour a ceremony and to decorate homes or spaces, giving us a warm and nice experience for everyone to enjoy.