The History of Candles: Part 2

In our previous blog post, we discussed the beginning of candles dating back to the Ancient Egyptians and Romans. For this post, we will continue with the history of candles through the 19th and 20th centuries up to today.

19th Century Candles
Natural CandlesMany of the major developments impacting contemporary candlemaking occurred during the 19th century. In the 1820s, French chemist Michel Eugene Chevreul learned how to extract stearic

acid from animal fatty acids. This led to the development of stearin wax, which was hard, durable and clean burning. Stearin candles are still popular in Europe today.

In 1834, inventor Joseph Morgan developed a machine that allowed for continuous production of molded candles by using a cylinder with a movable piston to eject candles once they solidified. With mechanized production, candles became much more affordable for all people.

In the 1850s, paraffin wax was introduced when chemists learned how to efficiently separate the naturally-occurring waxy substance from petroleum and refine it. Paraffin is odorless and bluish-white in color. It burned cleanly and was more economical to produce than any other candle fuel. The only disadvantage was a low melting point, but this was soon overcome by adding the harder stearic acid, which was then widely available.

Candlemaking began to decline with the invention of the light bulb in 1879.

20th Century Candles
During the first half of the 20th century, candles enjoyed a renewed popularity. The growth of U.S. oil and meatpacking industries brought an increase in the byproducts that had become the basic ingredients for candles: paraffin and stearic acid.

Candles remained steady in popularity until they began to increase notably in the mid-1980s. This is when candles were seen more as decorative items, mood-setters and gifts. Soon candles were available in various sizes, shapes and colors. Consumer interest in scented candles also began to escalate.

An unprecedented surge in the popularity of candles happened in the 1990s. During this time, new types of candle waxes were also being developed. In the U.S., agricultural chemists began to develop soybean wax, which is softer and slower burning than paraffin.

21st Century and Beyond
Candles made with soy wax are becoming better known, and consumers are beginning to turn to them because of the health benefits. Soy candles do not give off the dangerous chemicals like paraffin candles do when burning. Also, as a plant-based product, soy is renewable, whereas paraffin is not. Soy is a ubiquitous crop in the United States, and the wax can be developed inexpensively. Most likely, soy candles will continue to grow in popularity in the coming years.

There is no doubt that candles will continue to evolve in the future. How popular they will remain is anyone’s guess, but we don’t think they will ever disappear. Candles provide a sense of comfort and romance by filling a room with soft light or by emitting aromas in the air for us to enjoy. We feel that candles will continue to do this, while also becoming better for the environment and for us.

Milkhouse Candles are made from natural soy and beeswax. They provide familiar scents while not giving off harmful chemicals. Find a candle you can enjoy burning in your home!

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