Although candles and candle making were developed independently in many countries throughout history, the earliest known candles were made by the Chinese during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), from whale fat. China and Japan made taper candles using insect wax and seeds wrapped in paper. In India, wax was made from boiling cinnamon bark. The wax was used for temple candles. Around the 1st centruy AD, indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest used oil from the Eulachon, or "candlefish", for illumination. In areas like Europe, the Middle-East and Africa, olive oil, which was readily available, was used as lamp oil so, the art of candle making was essentially unknown until the early middle-ages.
In the 1990's the mausoleum of the first emperor of the Chinese Qin Dynasty (221-206BC) was rediscovered. In the tomb were found candles made from whale fat. The word "zhu" in Chinese originally meant torch, which may have been used during the Warring States Period (403-221 BC). The Jizhupian dictionary of about 40 BC (Han Dynasty; 202 BC -220 AD) makes reference to candles being made of beeswax, and the Book of Jin (compiled in 648) covering the Jin Dynasty (265-420) makes a clear refference to the beeswax candles. Generally these Chinese candles were molded in paper tubes, using rolled rice paper for the wick, and wax from bees or other indigenous insects that were combined with seeds. Japanese candles were made from wax extracted from tree nuts.
There is a fish found from Oregon to Alaska, called the Eulachon or "Candlefish", a type of smelt. During the 1st century AD, indigenous people in this region used oil from this fish for illumination. They also made simple candles by putting a dried fish on a forked stick and lighting it.
Candles made by nomadic tribes in the late Roman era were the first candles to appear in Europe. However, in the much colder climates of Northern Europe, where olive oil was scarce, candles are believed to have been in use much earlier, These early candles were made from tallow (animal fat). the tallow was placed in a melting pot, then poured into molds made of bronze. The wicks were typically a cord made from the pith of rush leaves. With the fall of the Roman Empire, olive oil became more and more scarce and expensive. The use of the less expensive tallow candles eventually took the place of olive oil candles across Western Europe. Less expensive wax made from various plant extracts were developed. Candles made from these waxes soon replaced the tallow candles. Yak butter was used for candles in Tibet.
Candles used for timekeeping
During this period, various methods of using candles to help indicate the passing of time, were developed. They could not be used to tell a specific time of day but they could indicate specific periods of time during the day. The first use of calibrated candles for time keeping in England was 870.
Anglo-Saxon King Alfred the Great (c. 849-899) used "graduated" candles to divide up periods of his day for study, prayer, rest and royal duties. 24-hour graduated candles were later invented. A candle could also be used as a timer by inserting a heavy nail into a candle at an indicated mark and burning the candle. As the wax surrounding the nail melted, the nail would fall, making a noise on a hard surface.
Candle making as a profession
Candles became commonplace in households scattered throughout Europe. In England and France candle making had become a "guild" craft by the 13th century. Chandlers (candle makers) would make candles from fats, and sell them house to house or from their own shops.
The popularity of candles grew in Europe during the Middle Ages and were used in many festivities. The fat from cows or sheep, called Tallow, became the standard material used in candles in Europe. During the 13 and 1400s many large campanies were formed that produced tallow candles. By the early 1400's tallow candles were used in street lighting. Most chandlers also oversaw the manufacture of sauces, vinegar, soap and cheese and were also given the name of"smeremongere". This was also due to the unpleasant smell of tallow candles. Beeswax candles were used for churches and royal events, as the smell was usually less unpleasant. the smell which emanated from the manufacturing process was so unpleasant that production was banned in many cities.
The first major change in candle making since the Middle Ages was brought about in the 18th Century by the growth of the whaling industry. Spermaceti was created by crystalizing the oil of the sperm whale. It became readily available and, like beeswax, it did not have a bad odor when burned. This wax produced a significanty brighter light and the material was harder than either tallow or beeswax, so it would not soften or bend in the summer heat. these were considered by most historians to be the first "standard candles". By 1800, yet another cheaper alternative was discovered. Colza oil, and a similar oil derived from rapeseed, would yield candles that produced clear, smokeless flames.
Manufacturing of candles
Joseph Sampson was granted a United States patent for a new method of candle making in 1790; the second patent ever granted by the US. In 1834, Joseph Morgan created a machine that allowed continuous production of molded candles by using a cylinder with a movable piston to eject candles as they solidified. This mechanized production produced about 1,500 candles per hour and made candles easily affordable for the masses.
Paraffin did not become commercially viable until 1850, when James Young filed a patent to produce it from coal. Paraffin produced high quality but inexpensive candles. Paraffin was a bluish-white wax, which was able to burn cleanly, and leave no unpleasant odor. Paraffin had a low melting point but the discovery of adding stearic acid helped elevate the melting point of paraffin. By the end of the 19th century, most candles were being made of paraffin with stearic acid.
Decline of Candles
Although great advances were made in candle making, the industry was soon devastated by a little invention in 1879 called and light bulb. Moving into the 20th Century, candles moved from being a major light source to become more of a decorative item. Candles became available in a broad array of sizes, shapes and colors, and consumer interest in scented candles began to escalate. During the 1990's, new types of candle waxes were being developed due to an unusually high demand for candles. In the U.S., agricultural chemists began to develop soybean wax which was 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.