Before the advent of electricity, candles were a staple in most homes, providing a source of light inside and outside. Candles have been made from a variety of materials, including animal fat, berries and beeswax, and have remained popular with homeowners long after electricity replaced them as a primary light source.
Tallow is believed to be one of the first materials used to make candles, followed by beeswax, but Native Americans crafted their candles out of sap from trees, according to Illuminosity Candles. Later, Colonial women discovered that boiling the berries of bayberry bushes created a sweetly scented wax. However, bayberry wax took considerable time and effort to make, so bayberry candles did not grow in popularity. In the late 18th century, the whaling industry brought with it a new type of candle material called spermaceti, which is a wax obtained from sperm whale oil. Spermaceti wax was harder than tallow and beeswax, didn’t soften in the summer heat, and it did not give off a foul odor. According to Candle Comfort Candles, it wasn’t until 1850 that the modern material, paraffin, was used to make candles. While it is still a widely used candle material, modern candle makers also use gels and soy-based wax.
No one knows for certain where candles originated, but according to Candle Comfort Candles, it is believed that the ancient Egyptians were the first to use them in the form of wickless torches that were made by dipping the core of rushes or reeds in melted tallow. Tallow is derived from animal fats and while it burned well, it produced a smoky, foul-smelling flame. Romans later improved on this design by adding wicks, but it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that sweeter-smelling and cleaner-burning beeswax was used to make candles. Today's candles are most often made from paraffin, a byproduct of the petroleum industry, but other options include soy, soy blends, beeswax and gels. Most candles are still made by placing a cotton wick into wax that is then molded, dipped, and then shaped.
Color, Size and Scent
Candles come in an endless variety of sizes and shapes, but according to the National Candle Association, tapers, pillars, votives and tiny tealights are the most commonly used. You can also find floating candles and novelty candles in the shape of favorite characters, objects or foods. Not only are candles made in almost any shape and size, the National Candle Association reports that more than 10,000 candle scents are available, including fruit, chocolate and floral scents, and color options include every shade in the rainbow.
Historically, candles were used as a light source, but modern candles are used as focal points in home décor, and for aromatherapy, relaxation and stress reduction. Candles are also used to add a pleasant scent to a room, and to make it feel cozy and warm. Candles are also to decorate the yard, patio or other exteriors, and of course, to light up birthday cakes.
According to Candle Comfort Candles, candle manufacturers that are members of the National Candle Association are trying to enact standards so that all candles made in the United States are used as safely as possible. However, manufacturers are not required to include safety information on candle labels. Most U.S. candle manufacturers place safety and use instructions on their candles voluntarily. Read and follow the safety recommendations on these labels. To prevent fire or injury, candles should never be left unattended, and should only be lit and monitored by an adult.