Early Candles

Early 1800's

The vast majority of poor families were still making candles at home in the early 1800s, even though skilled chandlers, or candle makers, were becoming more widespread. At this time, families made candles out of tallow, a substance rendered from the fat of sheep or cows. It was foul-smelling, created noxious fumes while burning and emitted a great deal of soot and smoke. Though tallow made for poor candles, the only other option was beeswax, which was far too expensive for the average family to afford and hard to come by in bulk. Candle making was usually done annually when a family's livestock was butchered for the winter. The tallow was melted in a large vat. A wick was draped over a stick and then repeatedly dipped into the vat until the tallow built up on it. When the candles were thick enough, they were hung to harden, then stored to use throughout the year.


In the 1820s, there were two major changes in candle making. The first change was the discovery of stearin in 1823. Stearin, found in tallow, could be separated from the tallow. If extra stearin was added to melted tallow for candle making, it would create a candle that was a bit harder and that would burn longer but with a bit less soot and smoke. The second was the invention of the braided wick in 1825. The process was simply braiding three strands of wick together to form one wick. Dipping the braided wicks led to a stronger candle that burned for a longer period of time, and more consistently. Until then, weaknesses in the single-strand, unbraided wick would cause more candle flickering and sputtering out.


By 1850, the discovery of paraffin and the use of molds revolutionized the candle making process. Paraffin, a petroleum product, was far superior to tallow in that it burned brighter and longer. Paraffin was harder and more durable, smelled infinitely better and produced far less smoke and soot. Molds enabled candle making to go much quicker than hand-dipping 50 to 70 layers of tallow on a wick. Once the paraffin was melted, it could be poured into a mold and set aside until hardened.

Late 1800's

By the late 1800s, the amount of families making their own candles was significantly reduced. Skilled chandlers could be found in every village, and because paraffin was abundant and inexpensive, and molds considerably cut their work time, professionally made candles could be obtained for a very reasonable fee.