Candles are popular household items that are usually white in color (although, other colors abound). They are made of wax and wick and operate on the simple mechanism of fuel meets fire. After all, one of the most absolute rules of combustion is that no fire can burn in the absence of fuel. Therefore, candle wax serves as the source of fuel. And this is possible because the materials used in making candle wax are able to support the burning of candle flames. However, this simple invention – the candle – was first invented thousands of years ago. Isn’t that fascinating?
WHO INVENTED CANDLES?
Candles were first made several thousands of years although; nobody knows exactly who its first inventor was. The earliest versions of candles were made from boiled down fat or tallow from livestock and other animals. Some of the earliest versions of candles could be attributed to the ancient Egyptians, who were far ahead of the curve at the height of their civilization. Their version of candles evolved from torches and oil lamps. However, other historians claim that Ancient Romans were actually responsible for the simple genius that we know as candles today; and that they too made their innovations by experimenting with boiled down fat or tallow obtained from the carcasses of slaughtered cattle and other livestock.
The Ancient Greeks also had their own versions of candles which were closely similar to the Egyptian and Roman version; however, there is no exact terminology or documentation about them. Some of the earliest versions of candles ever to be documented could be traced back to the Han dynasty; these kind of candles were tallow candles made with fat gotten from whales.
Tallow candles were rather popular for a very long time; to the point that several centuries ago, they even became a guild craft in England. As a result of this – along with the fact that candles were one of the fewest sources of illumination at the time – candle-makers (or chandlers) were in high demand. They used to go from household to household, using leftover fat that had been gathered in the kitchens to make candles for the family. And due to the fact that the fat was derived from slaughtered cattle and other livestock, tallow candles were somewhat expensive compared to other kinds of candles.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF CANDLES?
There are different kinds of materials used in making candles. Candle wax is basically the fuel source of a candle because when it is burning, it melts into a liquid form that easily gets absorbed by the wick to support burning. During the long history of candles, several materials have been invented and discovered to serve this function; some of them include the following:
Candles made from beeswax are more expensive compared to other kinds of wax (e.g. tallow wax). The major material used for it is obtained from beehives and honey combs. Candles made from beeswax have a reputation of burning better, cleaner (i.e. with the production of less soot) and much slower than other kinds of candles. Also, they are known for burning straight and evenly, and retaining their form even while burning. Candles made from beeswax are such excellent, high quality candles that they have built up a wonderful reputation for themselves over the course of centuries and even millennia.
- Paraffin wax
Paraffin wax was invented in the 19th century. However, it took a few years for it to be introduced into the market. Towards the end of that century (19th century), when it was finally introduced commercially, paraffin wax changed the face of the candle-making industry. This happened because up until then, candles made of tallow had been the major types of candles produced commercially. However, tallow had certain limitations which paraffin wax did not have; for instance, tallow or animal fat was harder to work with, and even harder to use in producing candles commercially. Paraffin wax was also much cheaper than tallow wax. Therefore, candle-makers found it easier to use paraffin wax in their molds.
Asides this, paraffin wax was easier to prepare in large batches commercially (in factories), which also added to their appeal, as far as candle makers were concerned. However, there were also several disadvantages to the widespread use of paraffin wax in place of other kinds of candles, the most notable of which is the gradual decline of candle-making knowledge and skill over the course of time.
- Soy wax
Soy wax is a kind of candle wax derived from plant material (soy, particularly). It has fine burning and melting properties and is, therefore, of very good quality. However, soy wax is not common is certain parts of the world.
- Insects rolled up in paper
There was a point in the long history of candles when candles were made by rolling up insects in some kind of paper, which was then lit to provide illumination. In the case of this type of candle, the insect body serves as the fuel source, which feeds and helps to sustain the flame when lit.
Candle wax made from tallow – or fat obtained from slaughtered animals and other livestock – is one of the oldest forms of waxes in the world. As a matter of fact, in virtually every culture and place where they have a history or evolution of candles, tallow wax has featured significantly in their documentation. For a long time, tallow wax was the most famous kind of candle wax in existence before the invention of paraffin wax candles.
THE REAL INVENTOR OF CANDLES
When it comes down to records of the actual person that first invented candles, there is very little to be found. This is because such knowledge has been lost in the sands of times, due to the fact that the actual invention probably took place several millennia ago, long before advanced forms of writing and documentation were established. The best historians have been able to do so far, is to narrow it down to cultures across the world, instead of a specific individual. And in the course of doing that, they have also been able to prove that several cultures have their own histories and evolutionary stories about the origin of candles; thus indicating that the invention of candles might not have been a localized event.