History of Candles: When Were Candles First Used?

Candles are a popular and elegant way to decorate your home. And are also quite effective in providing you with the opportunity to scent your home any way you like. The popularity of candles has recently exploded, with annual sales totaling $3.2 billion, and seven out of every ten households in the United States saying that they use candles regularly, per Income Wax, Inc. However, have you ever thought about how long they date back in history, and who were the first people to use them? Well, I’m here to tell you exactly that.

Candles date as far back as the tenth century BCE and were primarily made of reed wicks placed in flammable materials, such as animal fat. Dipped candles were invented by the Romans using beeswax or tallow, which is also a form of animal fat. 

Read along with me as we discover who invented the first candles. When they were invented; and how they were used. We will also learn about the various materials that have been used for candle making throughout history. As well as some of the more popular, significant Innovations and improvements made to candles which have helped them to reach the height of popularity that they have now attained. 

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Egyptian Candles 

History of Candles: When Were Candles First Used?

How long have humans been using candles as a means of lighting their homes? The answer might just surprise you. Candles have been used to provide lighting as far back as Biblical times. The first documented use of candles dates back to the tenth century BCE, when Egyptians first made crude wicks made of reeds and soaked them in flammable materials, according to the National Candle Association

While the first candles were crude by today’s standards. They provided something that humans had never been fortunate enough to have before. Which was a practical way to have a source of light inside their homes; as well as a way to light their paths in Ancient Egypt. While these candles did not burn for long, and they were also quite dangerous; they were the most innovative use of fire since the invention of cooking. 

Roman Candles 

Once humans had grasped the basic nature of harnessing the power of fire to provide a source of light in places where it had previously been unavailable. It was time to take the next logical step in the evolution of candles. The Romans figured out a way to make candles burn longer. While also making them slightly less dangerous to those who used them regularly.

This brought about the invention of dipped candles. Which inserted a wick in a form of animal fat known as tallow or beeswax. The single largest benefit that was gained from this evolutionary step in candles; was that they were able to burn much longer than the previous iterations. Which simply stuck a wick inside a container that was filled with flammable materials. Roman candles were also safer than the previous generation of candles.

European Candles in the Middle Ages

Perhaps the biggest step in the evolution of candles came in the Middle Ages. This is when candles shifted from being made out of tallow to being primarily made from beeswax. The two most significant benefits of using beeswax were that the candles burned much more cleanly, and they also produced a less smoky flame. The smell of beeswax was also quite a bit more pleasant than the smell of burning animal fat. 

Although beeswax candles had a few benefits that made them preferable to other candles, most European households in the Middle Ages still used candles made from tallow. This was because most households could not afford candles made from beeswax. Another major step in the evolution of candles; candle making was officially recognized as a guild craft during these times. Which helped them to become much more popular. 

Candles of Colonial Times

While candles had been in use in other parts of the world since the tenth century BCE. They were not introduced to America until Colonial Times. This occurred when American women discovered that burning the berries of bayberry bushes yielded an unexpected result; which was a clean-burning wax that produced a pleasant, sweet-smelling wax. Unfortunately, obtaining the wax from bayberry bushes was a tedious process.

The popularity of candles diminished greatly during colonial times. Because it was a difficult process to produce enough wax to make a sufficient number of candles. However, the popularity of whaling produced a wax that came from crystallizing the oil from the fat of the sperm whale. Which contributed greatly to the popularity of the first standard candles that we are more familiar with now. The wax from these candles produces a brighter light and was much harder than previous candles.

Candles of the 19th Century 

History of Candles: When Were Candles First Used?

Of all of the advancements made in candle making. No time in history was responsible for more changes and refinements to the art of candle making than during the 19th century. It was during this time that a French chemist named Michel Eugene Chevreul. Discovered a process to extract stearic acid from animal fatty acids. Which produced a clean-burning, hard and durable wax called stearin wax; which is still popular in European candle making to this day.

During this time, another event took place that was responsible for the ever-increasing popularity of candles. An inventor named Joseph Morgan developed a machine that led to the first documented mass production of candles. Which made them much more affordable and readily available. During the 1850s, candles started to be made from paraffin wax; after chemists discovered a process that allowed them to extract it from petroleum. 

Paraffin wax was more affordable than any other type of wax used in candle making. Although it had the disadvantage of a low melting point. Adding stearic acid helps with this problem. The result was a clean-burning candle that also burned slowly and did not melt in the summer heat. Unfortunately, the popularity of candle use suffered from the invention of the light bulb in 1879. Although, candles were still used to light the majority of homes during this time.

Candles In the 20th Century

The explosion of the oil industry and the meatpacking industry helped to witness an increase in the popularity of candles in the early 20th century because of the byproducts being produced that were used in candle making. This was also because candles became used as decorative items; given as gifts, and used as mood setters during the 1980s. For the first time, candles were available and a plethora of sizes, shapes, colors, and scents.

While the availability of candles was unprecedented in the 1980s. The 1990s brought about something that had not been accomplished for quite some time. Candles are now being made from many sources of alternative materials. Such as soy, which was considered to be a more environmentally-friendly substitute for paraffin wax. At this time, efforts were also being made to develop palm wax as well.

Present-Day Candles 

Although they are no longer used as a primary source of light. The popularity of candles has recently seen another increase that rivals any point in history. Candles are now used for their scent and their decorative appearance, and are frequently given as gifts as well. Their affordability and availability are two of the primary reasons that candles have become a part of our everyday lives. Whether we are using them to create a romantic ambiance or a way to celebrate birthdays. 


Candles have come a long way since their first documented use back in the Tenth Century BCE, where ancient Egyptians-soaked reeds in flammable oils found an animal fact as a way to brighten the darkness. The Romans were responsible for inventing dipped candles, but the true evolution of candles occurred when Europeans started using beeswax. However, candles would not be introduced to America until colonial times, when women would burn bayberry bushes to create wax.

Though most of these events helped contribute to the evolution of candles, they would not see a boom in popularity until the 19th century, when they would be made of better materials and become mass-produced. In the twentieth century, candles became much more affordable and available, which made them more popular than ever before. Now, they are available in a variety of materials, scents, and colors. Although they are no longer used as a primary light source, they are more common than ever.

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Related Questions 

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Which country uses more candles than any other country in the world, and why?

The answer to this question may surprise you. The country of Denmark uses more handles per capita than any other country in the world. The reason for this is due to a concept known as hygge, where artificial light is replaced by candlelight to create a certain feeling in individuals.

How much is the net worth of the candle industry?

Candles have become more and more popular over the last several hundred years due to their affordability and availability. As of 2019, the candle industry is worth 3.54 billion dollars and is expected to grow to 6.6 billion dollars by 2027, which means that the candle industry shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

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