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Let There Be Light! the History of Candles

Gail Nettles

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Candles. We take them for granted; they are always available. But what about the history of candles?

Where they came from; where they are; where they are going?

In the Beginning

The actual beginning of candles is lost in the mists of time. We know that the ancient Egyptians, as well as other cultures, used rush light dipped in oil (basically a torch). But can that really be called a candle? I guess 3,000 years ago, any light was a good light!

Along comes ancient Rome, and around the first century A. D. , they got the idea of using the rush pith, dipped in tallow. This was the first known use of a wick, and a precursor of today's candles.

Through the Ages

There was a problem with tallow; it tended to smell pretty bad when burning. Along in the Middle Ages, beeswax was discovered to be an excellent substitute for tallow. Not only was it harder and burned longer, but smelled sweet as it did burn!

There was a slight problem, though. Beeswax was such a hot commodity that only the Church and the wealthy could afford it. So, tallow continued to be the candle wax of choice.

Colonial America

When the settlers came to the United States, they found a great land, filled with bees - and therefore, beeswax. However, there wasn't quite enough for the burgeoning population, so again, the Church and the wealthy cornered the market.

Bayberry was temporarily a good substitute - it smelled wonderful and burned cleanly. Alas, it took a lot of effort to get the wax from the bayberries, so it was abandoned as being too little a return on investment, as far as time went. Back to tallow!

Introduction of Mass Production

Fast forward to the 1800's and mass production of candles, by using molds, was invented. Suddenly, there was a multitude of candles available! Not to mention, there were all kinds of waxes now available.

Unfortunately, oil lamps and electricity took away the widespread candle use, so demand declined.

Candles Today

Today, candles have many uses. Richly scenting our homes, decorating and providing emergency lighting are just three of the uses in our culture. And of course, there are also the religious and spiritual uses of these tiny beacons of light.

Where are they going? It's anyone's guess, but with the desire in today's culture to have sweet-smelling homes, it looks like the scented candle market will stay strong.

Here's to the history of candles!

Gail Nettles is a candle-a-holic and scented candle fiend. Want to know more about these glimmers of light? More than you ever wanted to know? Feast your senses at The Richly Scented Candle! ( )


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