Although the materials that comprise a candle have changed through the years, the art of candle making has remained surprisingly similar to the original production processes. Candle wicks were, at first, made of reeds or rushes; eventually, various natural fibres were used. In 1824, Frenchman Jean-Jacques Cambaraceres introduced an important refinement in wick technology with the platted wick, which burned more evenly than unplatted wicks. Twisted or platted cotton still makes up most wicks today.
Animal or vegetable fats were used for the first candles. As candle making technology progressed, beeswax became widely used, mainly because of its pleasing odour and the absence of the mess that melting fats produced.
After the Revolutionary War, the whaling industry in America skyrocketed, however, not every type of whale was cherished solely for its blubber, the sperm whale was also used for its spermaceti—the wax taken from the oil of this huge mammal. This wax was used extensively as the fishing industry began to expand. The spermaceti candle was popular because it had no acrid odour, did not soften in summer temperatures, and burned evenly. Ozokerite, a colourless mineral hydrocarbon wax with a high melting point, was also popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
As candle technology, advanced, animal fats were separated, leaving behind more desirable solid fatty acids such steric acid that had no odour and gave a brighter light. Paraffin, a wax crystallized from petroleum, became popular during the 1860’s and was eventually blended with spermaceti and ceresin (a by-product of refined petroleum oil) to create a more durable wax.
The original candles were produced through the dipping method, dating back to the Middle Ages, this method used wicks made from dried rushes, which were peeled on all but one side, revealing the pith. The wicks were repeatedly dipped into the molten fat until the fat had stuck to the wick at a desired thickness. Beeswax candles were constructed using both the dipping method and pouring method. In the pouring method, the melted beeswax is poured over a suspended cotton wick while the wick is simultaneously and manually twirled. After a enough wax has gathered at the bottom of the wick, the candled is reversed and poured from the other end.
Large-scale manufacture of candles became a reality only after 1834, when Joseph Morgan introduced the first mass-production candle making machine. Today’s modern machines are strikingly similar to that original machine, with speed, accuracy and finished quality the only major differences.