The first candles probably consisted of dried rushes
soaked in grease. Homemade rushlights were commonly used
in England as late as 1800 because, although they smoked
and smelled horribly, they were so cheap. In the Bible, candles
are mentioned several times but there is no information on
how or of what they were made.
Eventually someone discovered the method of making a "tallow
dip" with a wick running longitudinally through its
center. The wick -- a few threads of flax, hemp, or cotton,
lightly twisted or plaited -- was dipped in melted tallow
and allowed to cool,again and again, until the candle had
a desired thickness.
During colonial times in this country, every housewife made a
supply of candles in autumn. Candle rods, each with a row
of wicks, were repeatedly dipped in big iron kettles of boiling
water and melted tallow, That was an all-day back-breaking
job. Neater results were obtained by pouring the tallow into
pewter molds made for from 6 to 24 candles.
In most pioneer homes of Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois,
bits of tallow were carefully saved, and candlemaking --
by dipping or in molds -- was an important household chore.
Bought cotton twist, flax fibers, or the silky down from
milkweed pods, were used as wicks. Finer candles, with a
perfumed scent and more "backbone", were made with
wax obtained from the bayberry or wax myrtle, and with tallow mixed
with powdered gum camphor. Fancy striped effects were achieved
by using the red juice of pokeberries, green from wild nettles, yellow
from alder bark, and other natural dyestuffs.
Apparently, beeswax was not used in making candles until about
300 A.D. Subsequently, by canon law, candles used in certain
rituals of the Roman Catholic Church must contain not less
than 51 percent beeswax. The remainder may be a vegetable
or a mineral wax but not tallow. Finer candles for such rites
are made of 56-2/3 or 100 percent beeswax.
There are but two small candle-making plants in the Chicago region. Both
make candles only for religious purposes. Those for Greek Orthodox
Churches are composed entirely of paraffin and one size is 3-l/2
inches in diameter and 6 feet tall! Paraffin came into general
use after the discovery of petroleum oil, from which it is
distilled, 100 years ago in Pennsylvania.
Most of the candles used in this country are made in Syracuse,
NY., where the industry was founded in 1855 by Francis X.
Baumer, a Bavarian. Other Germans located there and followed
his example. Using ingenuous machinery, the big companies
now make about 3500 different kinds of candles for a great
variety of uses. In addition to
tallow, paraffin and beeswax, the materials used include mineral
waxes from Utah, Germany, Poland and Spain; carnauba wax
from a palm in Brazil; a wax created by certain insects feeding
on trees in China; oil from palms on the west coast of Africa;
bayberry wax; and two products, spermacetic and cetin, obtained
from the huge sperm whale.
In the Merchandise Mart here, two Syracuse companies have
fascinating displays of candles in a bewildering variety ofshapes,
sizes and colors. There are more candles used today than
ever before, not only in churches and synagogues r but in
hotels, restaurants and homes They have become a symbol of
This bulletin about candles appropriately marks our 15th anniversary. Bulletin
No. 1 appeared on February 1, 1945. Unfortunately, the back issues
are not available. We suggest that you save and bind your copies.