Candles Through the Ages

August 25, 2021 3 min read

Candles Through the Ages

Candles are a great way to liven up any space from a home decor and fragrance perspective, but when exactly did candles become more about aesthetics than simply provide light? Let’s take a stroll through the ages, shall we?

Candle usage can be traced back more than 5,000 years when they were mainly used as a light source, for celebrations, and for ritual practices. In case you were wondering, soy and paraffin candle bases are a relatively recent tactic. Ancient Egyptians (circa 3,000 B.C.) are credited as being the inventors of candles, but their rushlights were wickless creations made from the spongy core of river weeds and melted tallow (animal fat). It wasn’t until the ancient Romans put their unique spin on things that we started seeing the “modern” candle emerge. That spin? Why, wicks of course!

These early wicks were typically tightly-rolled papyrus (paper) that was repeatedly dipped in melted tallow or beeswax. The wicks allowed candles to burn more evenly, which meant travelers could start using candles rather than torches to light their way during nighttime galavanting.

Let’s fast forward into the Middle Ages, where animal fat started to lose popularity (shocking, since we’re sure it smelled fantastic) and beeswax started to become the norm. Not only did it smell better (go figure), but it had a cleaner, less smoky flame. Better? Absolutely. Expensive? You know it. Only the very wealthy could afford to have nice-smelling candles lighting their homes. Everyone else had to make due with the animal fat.

Kid you not, it wasn’t until the Colonial Period (yep, settlers and stuff) that people started realizing that candles didn’t have to just be made with plain old wax. Colonial women, bless them, were the true innovators here, boiling bayberries to create a wax that gave their candles a sweeter scent as well as a faint tint. Unfortunately, bayberry wax was a pain in the butt to work with and it lost popularity pretty quickly. Still, it’s the thought that counts and we applaud their efforts!

Things stayed kind of boring until chemists in the 19th century discovered that the naturally-occurring waxy component of petroleum (no, not Vaseline) could be refined and made into candles. And, badda-bing badda-boom, paraffin wax was born! Not only did it burn cleanly and didn’t throw off the smell of dead animals, but it was also cheap and easy to make in large quantities. The only real drawback was how quickly the paraffin melted, meaning that people had to buy more candles to light their homes. A drawback, yes, but, the lightbulb was developed less than 30 years later and people dropped their candles like a bad habit in favor of electricity.

If you can believe it, the modern, home-decor-version-candle really didn’t get popular until the mid 1980’s (yep… big hair, legwarmers, and… candles), when there was suddenly a demand for purely ornamental options. People started adding dyes and fragrance oils to their paraffin, realizing that candles could still serve a purpose instead of being purely decorative. Suddenly, there was a boom. Candles could be bought in all shapes, colors, and fragrances.

Nowadays, most cities are home to a candle company or two (like us!) and, although not used for light or warmth anymore, candles still serve as great centerpieces for occasions, gifts on holidays, and a much-needed odor fix in stinky bathrooms! (thank goodness)

Whatever your own candle habits or preferences, we have one (or more) just for you! Visit our Shop Page to check them out. After all, this kind of shopping spree would celebrate history, and who doesn’t love that?


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