Candles have been used for more than 5,000 years as a source of light and to illuminate man’s celebrations. In the year 3000 a. C., the Egyptians used evil candles, but the Romans dipped the papyrus in tallow or melted beeswax. These early candles burned poorly and probably smelled even worse. The Chinese molded their candles into paper tubes, using rice paper as the wick. In Japan, candles were made from dried fruit wax. Even in India, they used the wax from boiling the fruit of the cinnamon tree to make candles. Candles were used as a source of light, to help travelers at night, and for religious ceremonies.

During the Middle Ages, candles became more prevalent in worship. It was at this time that beeswax was used to make candles. These beeswax candles were made much like the Romans made their tallow candles. Beeswax was a drastic improvement on sebum, but limited quantities were available, making it expensive and limiting it to the clergy and upper class.

In colonial America, early settlers discovered that they could make a very mild wax by boiling the berries of the myrtle bush. This wax created a candle with a very sweet smell and good burning; however, the process of making myrtle wax was very tedious and tedious.

In the 18th century, the whaling industry prospered, and as a result, whale oil was available in large quantities. Spermaceti wax was derived from whale oil and used as a replacement for tallow, beeswax, and bayberry wax. The spermaceti wax candle gave off a rather unpleasant odor, but the wax was hard enough to hold its shape in the hot summer months.

The 19th century was a defining moment for candles and candle making. The first patented candle making machines were introduced at this time. This advance allowed candles to reach homes of all classes. It was also around this same time that a chemist named Michael Eugene Chevreul first identified tallow, or animal fat, as consisting of fatty acids. One of the fatty acids he identified was stearin (stearic acid). In 1825, Chevruel and another chemist named Joseph Gay Lussac patented a process for making candles from crude stearic acid. This process dramatically improved the quality of the candles.

The braided wick was also invented in the 19th century. Before its time, wicks were simply made of twisted strands of cotton, which burned very badly and needed constant maintenance. The braided wick was tightly braided and a part of the wick was curled up and allowed to burn out completely.

It was in the mid-19th century that paraffin wax was first used in a candle in Battersea, UK. This led to the commercial production of paraffin, which is a petroleum distillate. Burnt paraffin clean, bright and odourless. The paraffin was also mixed with stearic acid, which hardened the wax and created a superior and cheaper candle.

With the introduction of the kerosene lamp in 1857 and the incandescent light bulb in 1879, candles were destined to lose their reign as the “King of Light.” Candles now experienced a secondary role as a light source and were saved for emergencies.

The 1990s brought a new type of wax to the industry. In 1991, Michael Richards originally founded his company Candleworks to make beeswax candles. Beeswax was expensive, up to 10 times more expensive than petroleum candle wax (paraffin). In July 1991, Michael Richards experimented with a wide range of vegetable waxes and vegetable oils. His goal was to find a natural wax that would be cost competitive with paraffin wax. He continued to test natural waxes for several years, including a broader range of domestic and tropical plant oils, while researching and developing other vegetable wax candles.

In 1997, Candleworks, with the cooperation of the University of Iowa, documented tests of new soy waxes developed by Michael Richards. This work resulted in a report titled “Increasing Use of Soybeans in Candle Making” for the Iowa Department of Agriculture.

Documentation of Michael Richard’s natural wax research from 1991 to 1999 was submitted to the US Patent Office in 2000. In 2001, Cargill purchased the intellectual property of Michael Richard’s soy wax invention. Michael Richards continued to market soy wax to the industry and provided technical training for other candle makers in the use of soy wax. In 2002, Michael Richards launched a national candlemakers’ guild called “Village Chandler”. Currently, there are 62 members and 17 states and Canada. This union is committed to the use of soy wax in the production of candles. Today, soy wax is rapidly becoming a new national industry and the leading alternative to paraffin wax.

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