Seems like candles have been around forever, right? But when were candles actually invented? Let's break it down from the beginning:
Before the candle, humans' main source of indoor light at night was firelight or oil lamps. But these options had some drawbacks - oil lamps required constant supervision as the wick needed to be moved forward by hand, and were very prone to spillage, making them a fire hazard. Torches couldn't be used indoors for the same reason.
Sources differ on timeline & where the wicked candle first appeared. There's historical evidence to suggest candles were independently created in multiple ancient civilizations.
As early as 3,000 BC, the Egyptians were dipping reed cores into animal fat & using as torches/lights. However these rushlights didn't have a true candle wick.
The Romans appear to have made the first versions of the wicked candles we're familiar with now. In roughly 500 BC, they developed a method of dipping rolled papyrus into melted beeswax or tallow (beef or sheep fat). We checked - no relation to the "Roman Candle" firework, which is named after a form of torture. Fun facts.
In China, rolled rice paper was burned in wax made from crushed insects and seeds. In India, wax was made from boiling cinnamon tree fruit. Other ancient civilizations formed their own candles using locally available plants, insects, and animal fats.
The earliest known surviving candle was found in the tomb of the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty in Han, China, dating back to 200 BC.
In North America in the 1st century, small oily fishes (Eulachon, also known as Candlefish), would be dried, placed on a forked stick & burned as a candle.
By the Middle Ages, candles were in wide production & usage. Reliance on the candle rapidly grew due to it's portability and safety.
In western civilizations, both beeswax & tallow candles were made. Beeswax candles were considered far better than tallow candles, but were prohibitively expensive. If you weren't rich or with the church, you weren't using beeswax candles.
Tallow candles on the other hand, were widely available. Unfortunately, since tallow is, you know, animal fat, these candles put off a repulsive smell & smoked when burned.
Chandlers (candle makers) would go door to door & make each home's candles from reserved animal fats in the kitchens. Some also opened small candle shops to offer their products.
Mass production of candles began in 1834 when Joseph Morgan, a pewter utensil maker from Manchester, England, patented a molded candle making machine. This allowed for production of up to 1500 candles per hour.
Around this same time, chandlers began tightly braiding cotton wicks, which caused the wick to curl over on itself when burning, maintaining the height of the flame (also known as self-trimming wicks).
In the 1850s, James Young, a Scottish chemist, developed a commercially viable process to extract paraffin wax from coal & oil shales. Paraffin wax burned cleanly, was a pleasant white color & unlike tallow candles, emitted no smell when burned.
As you can imagine, candles made with paraffin wax quickly gained popularity, and became the primary type of candle until candle making began to decline with the introduction of the lightbulb in 1879.
Candles began regaining popularity in the 20th century, notably in the 1980's, when interest in candles as decorative items & gifts began to increase. Scented candles began to more highly sought after. In the 1990's, this interest spurred the development of additional candle waxes such as soy wax, palm wax, and more recently, coconut & apricot waxes (among others).
Today, candles continue to increase in popularity and are widely used for celebrations, gifts, aromatherapy, ambiance & self care.