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History of Candles

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Candles have cast a light on man's progress for centuries. However, there is very little known about the origin of candles. Although it is often written that the first candles were developed by the Ancient Egyptians who used rushlights, or torches, made by soaking the pithy core of reeds in molten tallow, the rushlights had no wick like a candle. It is the Romans who are credited with developing the wick candle, using it to aid travelers at dark, and lighting homes and places of worship at night.

Like the early Egyptians, the Roman's relied on tallow, gathered from cattle or sheep suet, as the principal ingredient of candles. It was not until the Middle Ages when beeswax, a substance secreted by honey bees to make their honeycombs, was introduced. 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.

Colonial women offered America's first contribution to candlemaking 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.

The growth of the whaling industry in the late 18th century brought the first major change in candlemaking 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.

It was during the 19th century when most major developments affecting contemporary candlemaking 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.

Further developments in candlemaking 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 cleanly, and 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.

With the introduction of the light bulb in 1879, candlemaking declined until the turn of the century when a renewed popularity for candles emerged.

Candle manufacturing was further enhanced during the first half of the 20th century through the growth of U.S. oil and meatpacking 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.

No longer man's major source of light, candles continue to grow in popularity and use. Today, candles symbolize celebration, mark romance, define ceremony, and accent decor — continuing to cast a warm glow for all to enjoy.

Candle Use & Safety

How are candles made?

While modern candle-making processes vary, most candles are made through the timeless process of placing a cotton wick into wax which is then molded, dipped, extruded, pressed, rolled, drawn or filled into a desired shape and size.

What is the best way to store candles?

Candles should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place and, for tapers, in a flat position to prevent warping. When stored properly, candles can be enjoyed for years and play an important role in traditions.

Does the industry have standards for candles?

Domestic candle manufacturers have a long tradition of making high quality, long-lasting and safe candles. National Candle Association members – manufacturers and suppliers – are working with the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) to implement voluntary standards for candles.

Are candles safe to use?

Candles are safe when burned properly and responsibly, and according to manufacturers’ directions. When burning candles, consumers should always follow these simple, common sense steps:

What are the typical ingredients in a candle?

A candle consists primarily of wax and a wick. Many candles also contain dyes or pigments for color and fragrances for scent as well as other minor ingredients.

What kind of label information is required to be placed on candles?

No safety information is required on candle labeling. However, most U.S. candle manufacturers voluntarily place safety and use instructions on their candles. The National Candle Association is working with American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) to create voluntary labeling standards for the industry.


Candle Facts

U.S. candle consumer retail sales for 2001 were projected at $2.3 billion, not including candle accessories.

There are more than 300 known commercial, religious and institutional manufacturers of candles in the United States, as well as many small craft producers for local, non-commercial use.

Candles are sold principally in three types of retail outlets: department stores, specialty (gift) shops, and mass merchandisers, including drug store chains, supermarkets, and discount stores. The U.S. market is typically separated into seasonal (Christmas Holiday) business at roughly 35%, and non-seasonal business at about 65%.

Typically, a major U.S. candle manufacturer will offer 1,000 to 2,000 varieties of candles in its product line.

Types of candles manufactured in the U.S. include: tapers, straight-sided dinner candles, columns, pillars, votives, wax-filled containers and novelties. Many of these come in different sizes and fragrances, and all come in a range of colors.

Candles can range in retail price from approximately 50 for a votive candle to around $75.00 for a large column candle although a specialty candle could be as much as $200.

Candle shipments increase substantially during the third quarter of the year because of the seasonal nature of candle sales during the end-of-year holiday celebrations (including Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa), since candles play a large role at this time of year (religious, gifts and decorations).

Candle industry research findings indicate that the most important factors affecting candle sales are color, shape and scent. Fragrance is increasing in importance as a special element in the selection of a candle for the home.

Candle manufacturers' surveys show that 96% of all candles purchased are bought by women,.

Candles are used in 7 out of 10 U.S. households. A majority of consumers burn candles for less than three hours per occasion. A majority of consumers also burn candles between 1-3 times per week with half of these consumers burning 1-2 candles at a time.

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