In the fourth century B.C., candles were developed by the Ancient Egyptians by soaking the pithy core of reeds in molten tallow (animal fat). Called rush lights, they had no wick like a candle. The early Romans are credited with developing the candle with a wick which was made from papyrus (a tall, aquatic, Mediterranean grass like plant) .
Then in the Middle Ages, beeswax, a substance secreted by honey bees to make their honeycombs, was introduced. Beeswax candles were a marked improvement over those made with tallow since they did not produce a smoky flame or emit an unpleasant odor when burned. Instead, beeswax candles burned pure and clean. However, they were expensive and, therefore, only the wealthy and the church had them.
In fourteenth century England, servants of the Royal household were paid partly in beeswax candles. Through to the reign of George III, the ends of used beeswax candles from the royal palaces were given to the Lord Chancellor as a valuable benefit of his position.
From the sixteenth century onwards, living standards improved as evidenced by the increasing availability of candlesticks and candleholders and their appearance in households. At this time, candles were usually sold by the pound and sold in bundles of eight, ten, or twelve candles. Everyday candles were made of animal fat (tallow), usually from sheep (mutton) or cows. These candles were usually a dark, yellowish color and probably gave off a nasty smell.
Early Chinese and Japanese candles were molded in paper tubes. They were made out of a wax made from an insect known as a “Cocus” and were mixed with seeds from various trees. The wicks were made of rolled-up rice paper.
In India, the use of animal fat in candles was prohibited by religious decree so candles were made from wax skimmed while boiling cinnamon.
Along the Northwest coast of North America the Indians produced light by inserting oily dried smelt into a slit at the end of a stick and lighting it.
In the Shetland Islands ( Scotland) the Stormy Petrel as well as other birds known to have a high content of fat in their bodies were hunted, killed and dried. They then had wicks put down their throats which were lit to produce light.
In 18th century England, candles were taxed and common people were forbidden to make their own. There were two guilds of chandlers, one for tallow chandlers and one for wax chandlers. They were the only ones licensed to produce candles until 1831. At that time the law was repealed.
Also in the 18th century the growth of the whaling industry brought the first major change in candle making since the Middle Ages. It was then that spermaceti, a wax obtained by crystallizing sperm whale oil, became available in quantity. Like beeswax, the spermaceti wax did not elicit a repugnant odor when burned. It was also harder than both tallow and beeswax which meant it did not soften or bend in the summer heat.
It was during the 19th century when most major developments affecting contemporary candle making occurred. In 1834, inventor Joseph Morgan introduced a machine which allowed continuous production of molded candles. A cylinder which featured a movable piston ejected candles as they solidified.
In 1850 the production of the first paraffin wax made from oil and coal shale began. It was made by distilling the residues left after crude petroleum was refined. Hence the petroleum candles like Yankee Candle that smoke and soot a lot. I stopped carrying Yankee a few years ago when we found cleaner, better burning candles for our customers to use.