History of Candles
In AD 100 Greeks and Roman true candles were made of flax threads coated with pitch or wax, although the Phoenicians are credited with the first use of wax candles about AD 400. The candle was not in as common use as the oil lamp for several centuries, but it returned during the Middle Ages. Throughout the 16th to the 18th century and until the discovery of petroleum, candles provided the only method of artificial illumination available to people of average means. By the European Middle Ages tallow candles were in wide use: in a Paris tax list of 1292, 71 chandlers, or candle makers, are named.
The earliest candles were rush piths dipped in tallow. Later, splinters of wood, also dipped in tallow or beeswax and called kindle lights, were used. Homemade candles of the 16th century were of tallow. The whaling industry of the 18th century brought spermaceti into use. The spermaceti candle, because of its clear, steady flame, was used as a standard measure for artificial light, the term used as a standard measure for artificial light, the term "one candlepower" being based on the light given by a pure spermaceti candle weighing one-sixth of a pound and burning at the rate of 120 grams an hour. The isolation of stearin in 1823 and the development of paraffin in the 1850s furnished improved materials for candles.
In the 19th century a French chemist, Michel-Eugene Chevreul, separated the fatty acid from the glycerin of fat to produce stearic acid, from which superior candles could be made. New processes for producing candle stock appeared in rapid succession. In addition to stearin, two other important sources were found: spermaceti, from the head cavity of the sperm whale, and paraffin wax, from petroleum. A composite of paraffin and steric acid became the basic candle stock.
Candleholders have assumed various forms. The Prickett chandelier introduced in Italy in 1492 was a multiple-spiked holder mounted in groups around a decorative figure on the wall, with mutton-fat candles forced on the spikes. In the 15th century crystal chandeliers with small cups for holding wax candles lighted homes, ballrooms, and public gathering places. Of theses candles, 120 would have been required to equal the light of one 100 watt electric lamp, and the number required for a large room produced much heat. Candles in elaborate chandeliers were used for illumination of the House of Commons in England as late as 1834.
In use, heat from the flame liquefies the wax near the base of the wick. The liquid flows upward by capillary action, then is vaporized by the heat. The flame is the combustion of the wax vapor.
Candle-molding machinery, also developed in the 19th century, consists or rows of molds in a metal tank that is alternately heated and cooled. After the molds are cooled, the candles are ejected by pistons. Spools of wicking from the bottom of the machine are threaded through the pistons to pass through the candle mold. As the cooled candles are ejected, the wicks are cut.
The Standard or International Candle is a measurement of light source intensity. It was originally defined as a one sixth pound candle of sperm wax, burning at the rate of 120 grains per hour. This intensity of light was standardized in 1921 in terms of incandescent lamps, and candles are no longer used for reference.
Modern candles are produced in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. Beeswax and bayberry wax are occasionally employed as additives and some candles are scented. Candle making has become a popular hobby.