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OT? Help kid with candlemaking history?


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My son is working on a project for school. They are setting up a Silk Road bazaar where he will be an ancient Roman candlemaker, producing and selling candles made from tallow.

Along with this, he needs to produce a report about candle production and trade along the road (which ran from southern Europe and north Africa to China via central and southern Asia, map here)

Does anyone know resources which can help him learn about candlemaking anywhere in Asia or North Africa a long time ago (say around 1 BC, give or take a few centuries)?

Thanks much,


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Type "history of candlemaking" into google and you will be inundated with answers.

Here's some info to get you started:

While no date can be definitely pinned down for the development of the first candle, we do know that candles were developed independently in many countries. Accounts of candle use date back to ancient times, with Biblical references as early as the tenth century BC. The Egyptians and Cretans made candles from beeswax, as early as 3000 BC. The Chinese created candles from whale fat during the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC). In early China and Japan, tapers were made with wax from insects and seeds, wrapped in paper. Qin Shi Huang (259–210 BC) was the first Emperor of the Chinese Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC). His burial grounds, which were rediscovered in the 1970s twenty-two miles east of Xi'an by Chinese peasants digging a well, co ntained candles made from whale fat. Yak butter was used for candles in Tibet. In India, wax from boiling cinnamon was used for temple candles.

During the first century AD, indigenous people from the northwestern region of the United States and Canada used oil from a type of fish called the eulachon or "candlefish", a type of smelt which is found from Oregon to Alaska, for illumination. A simple candle could be made by putting the dried fish on a forked stick and then lighting it.

Excavations beginning in 1748 at Pompeii, Italy, which was destroyed by a catastrophic eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD., revealed several candelabra. However, the earliest surviving candle in Europe was found in Avignon in France from the 1st century AD.

Early candles were made from various forms of natural fat, tallow, and wax. Although it is often written that the first candles were developed by the Ancient Egyptians who used rush lights, or torches, made by soaking the pithy core of reeds in molten tallow, the rush lights had no wick like a candle. The fact is, such rush lights have probably been in use since man first discovered fire. The Romans are credited with developing the modern wick candle, using it to aid travelers at dark and to light homes and places of worship at night.

Along with the early Egyptians, the Romans relied on tallow, gathered from cattle or sheep suet, as the principal ingredient of candles With the emergence of the Roman Empire evidence exists of the development of candles as we know them today. The Roman method was to heat the tallow until it liquefied. Next the tallow was poured over a wick material, usually made from the pith of rushes, which was suspended from a horizontal rod. As it was poured, the candle maker would use his hands to smooth the cooling tallow. A trough underneath the suspended candles would catch the excess and would then be returned to the melting pot.

Candles in the Middle Ages

During the middle ages, candles became associated with worship. Priests made beeswax candles for their services and also for the general population. Using the Roman method, they simply poured molten beeswax over a wick material, usually made of rushes. The demand for candles began to grow and Candle Guilds were formed. Candle makers at this time were called "chandlers". The popularity of candles was also shown by their use for Candlemas and Saint Lucia festivities.

Candles were used in Elizabethan times and nobleman attending a banquet at the French court of Louis XIV carried a candle in order to appear subservient to the king.

Tallow, fat from cows or sheep, became the standard material used in candles in Europe. The Tallow Chandlers Company of London was formed in about 1300 in London, and in 1456 was granted a coat of arms. Dating from about 1330, the Wax Chandlers Company acquired its charter in 1484. By 1415, tallow candles were used in street lighting.

Tallow candles, however, had a very unpleasant smell due to the glycerine they contained. For this reason churches and royal events used candles from beeswax as the smell was usually less unpleasant. The smell of the tallow manufacturing process was so unpleasant that it was banned by ordnance in several cities.

Beeswax candles were a marked improvement over those made with tallow, for they did not produce a smoky flame, or emit an acrid odor when burned. Instead, beeswax candles burned pure and clean. However, they were expensive, and, therefore, only the wealthy could afford them. Tallow continued to be the primary ingredient of most candles outside the church.

Early candles were made by suspending several wicks from a long rod called a Broach. The liquefied tallow was poured into a container and the wicks were dipped three times and then hung on a rack and allowed to dry. After this initial dipping, the candles would be repeatedly dipped until the desired thickness was achieved.

The practice of using molds to make candles began in the 15th century in France. The wax was poured into hollow open-ended cylinders. These cylinders had a cap with a small hole in the center for the wick. The wick was then placed in the mold and held in place by small wires. Once the mold was filled the wicks were pulled taunt and the wax left to cool. And the wires were removed. A true candle maker would bleach his candles by hanging them outside. Although he would protect the candles from the sun and the elements, he would keep them outside for 8 to 10 days.

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Colonial Times to the Industrial Revolution

Colonial women offered America's first contribution to candle making when they discovered that boiling the grayish green berries of bayberry bushes produced a sweet-smelling wax that burned clean. However, extracting the wax from the bayberries was extremely tedious. As a result, the popularity of bayberry candles soon diminished. To this day Bayberry candles are made the same way, although cost is prohibitive since it takes one and a half quarts of Bayberries to make an 8 inch taper candle. Early missionaries in the southwestern United States boiled the bark of the Cerio tree and skimmed the wax to make candles.

The growth of the whaling industry in the late 18th century brought the first major change in candle making since the Middle Ages, when 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. Furthermore, spermaceti wax was found harder than both tallow and beeswax. It did not soften or bend in the summer heat. Historians note that the first "standard candles" were made from spermaceti wax. In 1811 stearic acid was developed. This chemical is a by-product of fat and was blended into the wax to harden it. This created candles that burned longer.

When cotton began to be imported from the hot countries and the "American Plantation" (later the United States), the cotton began to replace rush wicks and linen was sometimes used as well. Wicks made simply of twisted strands of cotton burned very poorly and needed constant maintenance. By 1825 it was discovered that braided wicks were a great improvement for candles at this time. The braided wick was tightly plaited and the wick curled over as it burned enabling it to be completely consumed.

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 by the use of a cylinder which featured a movable piston that ejected candles as they solidified. His machine manufactured 1500 candles an hour from a mould. Even though by the middle of the 19th century the Industrial Revolution had transformed the way candles were made, handmade candles were still in demand, especially for religious activities.

Further developments in candle making occurred in 1850 with the production of paraffin wax made from oil and coal shales. Processed by distilling the residues left after crude petroleum was refined, the bluish-white wax was found to burn with no unpleasant odor. Of greatest significance was its cost — paraffin wax was more economical to produce than any preceding candle fuel developed. And while paraffin's low melting point may have posed a threat to its popularity, the discovery of stearic acid solved this problem. Hard and durable, stearic acid was being produced in quantity by the end of the 19th century. By this period, most candles being manufactured consisted of paraffin and stearic acid.

Candles continued to be the main source of light for the home until the invention of the light bulb in 1879. Before this invention though, candles or oil lamps were prevalent in every home. During the Civil War, men on both sides of the conflict looked forward to packages from home which would include not only food, but soap and candles. In the Confederacy, especially, soldiers would write home asking for candles. Buying candles at camp was expensive as one soldier wrote to his wife from Port Hudson, La. in January 1863, " I am sorry you troubled yourself so much about candles when we first came here we could not get them but now we can get them at from 50 to 75 cents".

With the spread of electric power for the basic lighting of our homes, the candle was no longer the prominent way to light our homes. The candle market contracted but did not die as there was still a demand for candles for churches, romantic dinners, home decor, celebrations, relaxation, and sheer enjoyment.

Candle manufacturing was enhanced during the first half of the 20th century through the growth of U.S. oil and meat packing industries. With the increase of crude oil and meat production, also came an increase in the by-products that are the basic ingredients of contemporary candles — paraffin and stearic acid.

The popularity of candles began to grow during the mid-1980s, when interest in candles as decorative items, mood-setters and gifts began to increase notably. Candles were suddenly available in a broad array of sizes, shapes and colors, and consumer interest in scented candles began to escalate.

The 1990s witnessed an unprecedented surge in the popularity of candles, and for the first time in more than a century, new types of candle waxes were being developed. In the U.S., agricultural chemists began to develop soybean wax, a softer and slower burning wax than paraffin. On the other side of the globe, efforts were underway to develop palm wax for use in candles. Gel wax, another petroleum derivative, also became available for candle production.

While many candles are still made in large factories, with the increased availability of vegetable waxes and gel waxes, cottage-style operations began to grow, making candles in their kitchen and selling those candles in gift shops, craft fairs, and on the internet. Candles are being made in all types of styles - container, votives, pillars, and other shapes such as pyramids, globes, square, and novelty types such as Christmas trees, bunny rabbits, turketys, and pumpkins.

Candle Usage in Religion


In Christianity, candles are commonly used in worship both as decoration as well as symbols representing the light of Christ. Candles are often placed on the altar. Votive candles may be lit as an accompaniment to prayer. Candles are lit by worshippers in front of icons in Catholic, Orthodox and other churches. In some churches, a special candle known as the Paschal candle specifically represents Christ, and is lit only at Easter and baptisms.

In some Christian denominations, the day of Candlemas marks the end of the season of Epiphany. On this day, the presiding priest blesses all the candles to be used in worship for the following year.

Candles were traditionally used to light up Christmas trees before the advent of electric lights. They are still, even today, commonly used to decorate Christmas trees in Denmark and other European countries. They are also used in Advent wreaths.

In Sweden (and other Scandinavian countries), St. Lucia Day is celebrated on December 13 with the crowning of a young girl with a ring of candles.


In Judaism, candles are traditionally lit on Friday evening at the start of the weekly Sabbath celebration, and Saturday night during the Havdalah ritual, which ends the Sabbath. The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is celebrated by lighting a candle in a special candelabrum each night during the eight-day holiday to commemorate the dedication of the altar in the Temple in Jerusalem. Candles are also used in remembering a deceased loved one, especially on their Yahrzeit, the anniversary of their death according to the Hebrew calendar, when a 24-hour candle is lit. Similarly, on Yom HaShoah, a day of remembrance for all those who perished in the Holocaust, candles are lit to honor the victims.


Candles are also used in celebrations of Kwanzaa, which is an African American holiday which runs from December 26 to January 1


For Humanists, skeptics, and nontheists (and particularly secular humanists), candles have become a symbol of the light of reason or rationality. This association was inspired by Carl Sagan, who subtitled his 1997 book The Demon-Haunted World with Science as a Candle in the Dark. The Humanist festival of HumanLight often features a candle-lighting ceremony.


In Wicca and related forms of Neopaganism, candles are frequently used on the altar to represent the presence of the God and Goddess, and in the four corners of a ritual circle to represent the presence of the four elements. When used in this manner, lighting and extinguishing the candles marks the opening and closing of the ritual. Candles are also frequently used by Wiccans and other Neopagans for magical and meditative purposes.

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