Lighting rooms and nights across the world for thousands of years, the humble candle was man’s shining companion in beating back the darkness. Now, replaced by the power of electricity and light bulbs, the modern candle has taken on a new role as a decoration for both the eye and the nose with thousands of fragrances drifting throughout millions of houses with every lit wick. Read on to learn 27 facts about candles.
Fact 1: A candle is a very basic invention that is made up of two parts: A wick that can be easily lit, such as braided cotton, and a solid fuel source surrounding the wick. The solid fuel source, in this case, wax, helps to slow down the burning process of the candle.
Fact 2: In the year 500 BC, that’s about 2500 years ago, Romans started making dipped candles from an animal byproduct called tallow. Candle dipping is the process by which a raw length of wick is dipped multiple times into liquid wax, or fat, to build up multiple layers of fuel around the wick.
Fact 3: In 1834, a pewterer from Manchester England called Joseph Morgan invented a machine that allowed him to mass manufacture 1500 candles per hour. The machine achieved this massive production volume by injecting wax into a pre made mold. The machine would then pop the solidified candle out of the mold and the process would start again.
Fact 4: Candles were not always used for decorative purposes or to make rooms smell nice. Their primary purpose 200 years ago, before the invention of the modern light bulb, was to simply light rooms.
Fact 5: James Young, a Scottish chemist, successfully created paraffin wax from coal and oil for the first time in the 1850s in his West Lothian laboratory. The method he used to create the wax was simple and cost-effective which made it viable to create paraffin wax in large quantities for commercial use. The bluish-white wax he’d created burned very cleanly with little odor. This let candlemakers, for the first time, make very high-quality candles for a very low cost. However, in the modern-day candle making paraffin wax is slowly being replaced with other more environmentally friendly waxes such as soy wax which is not dependable on nonrenewable energy sources. So if you want to help save the world, buy soy candles instead of paraffin candles!
Fact 6: A candle flame’s average temperature is approximately 1000°C. That’s about five times hotter than your average kitchen oven.
Fact 7: The oldest candles still in existence are over 2200 years old. They originated in the Han dynasty China around 200 BC and they were made from whale fat.
Fact 8: The perfect length of wick sticking up out of the wax of a candle is 7 mm long. If it’s any shorter the flame is massively reduced in size and can’t create enough heat to sustain itself. Too long, and the flame starts to burn inefficiently creating smoke and soot.
Fact 9: Though the first candles are generally attributed to ancient China, it’s thought that ancient Greek scientists also invented candles. However, because of changes in language over the thousands of years and imprecise terminology, it’s difficult to tell for certain if they did.
Fact 10: When burning a candle you should let it burn long enough so that the whole top layer of wax is melted. This can take quite a long time depending on the size of the candle you’re using. If you don’t let the candle burn long enough, the flame will only melt the wax close to the wick. This will lead to a funnel being created, with the burnt tip of the wick burrowing deeper and deeper into the candle and wasting the surrounding wax.
Fact 11: Modern wicks are self-trimming. As stated in Fact 8, the ideal length of a wick is 7 mm, so, instead of having to cut the wick to the right length, modern wicks are designed to curve over as they burn and incinerate needed wick in their own flame.
Fact 12: A chandler is a place or person that makes candles.
Fact 13: The largest candlemaker in the world is the Yankee candle company in America. Founded in 1969, Yankee has a turnover of nearly $1 billion a year just from selling candles!
Fact 14: Putting candles on birthday cakes to represent the age of a person only really started as a tradition in the 1700s. And, at first, it was only done by wealthy people who could afford candles.
Fact 15: Before the invention of the candle people used oil lamps to light dark rooms and spaces. However, oil lamps were incredibly dangerous because the oil was an unstable substance that could ignite very easily. If you dropped an oil lamp on the floor they would often shatter, spilling ignited oil everywhere. Not good. Wax, on the other hand, is a far more stable source of fuel. Wax won’t shatter and instantly light on fire as the amount of energy needed to light the wax is too high. You need a few minutes of sustained heat just to melt the wax, never mind to ignite it. Additionally, depending on how a candle lands, the wick will often be snuffed out.
Fact 16: A Eulachon, or candlefish, is a breed of fish that has such a high-fat content, up to 15% of its body weight, that it can be used as a candle. You just stick a wick through its body, light the wick, and the fish’s body starts to melt. Poor Fish!
Fact 17: 1000 years ago, the Song dynasty in China used candles as clocks. They would create candles of varying sizes with each size burning for a known amount of time. Want to practice sword fighting for an hour? Pick a small candle. Want to meditate for 5 hours? Pick a fat tall one. Beautifully simple!
Fact 18: Because our sense of smell heavily influences our sense of taste you should never use a scented candle when eating food. Why? Because it’ll make things taste odd. You might be eating a burger and instead of it tasting meaty, it’ll taste sweet because you have a sweet fragrance candle burning in the background.
Fact 19: Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year for candle manufacturers! Over 35% of all candle sales across the world are made near Christmas.
Fact 20: Spermaceti, a waxy substance produced in the head of the sperm whale, was used by candle manufacturers in the 18th and 19th centuries to produce superior candles that burned longer, and brighter. Thankfully, Mr. Whale gets to keep his wax these days as there’s a ban on whale hunting across the world.
Fact 21: There is a tiny invisible part of a candle flame, right at the bottom of the candle flame just next to the blue part, that burns at a ferocious temperature of 1,400 °C. That’s 400 °C higher than the candle flame’s average template of 1000 °C.
Fact 22: A snuffer is a type of scissors used for candle management in the early 20th century that had two purposes. One, it was used to cut the wick to the correct length. And two, it had a little cup on it that was placed over the top of the flame to snuff out the flame.
Fact 23: U.S. retailers sell over $3.2 billion worth of candles and candle related things each year.
Fact 24: It’s estimated that over 500,000 kg of wax is used every year, just in the USA, to make candles.
Fact 25: Paraffin Waxes burn with a yellow flame due to the presence of carbon.
Fact 26: The world’s largest-ever candle was a colossal 39 meters tall. It was created for the General Art and Industrial Exhibition of Stockholm in 1897, and it’s unknown if it was ever lit or if it was even capable of being lit.
Fact 27: The largest candle that still exists today is the Peace Candle of the World. Found in Scappoose, Oregon, in the USA, the candle is over 15 meters tall and 5.5 meters in diameter. Unfortunately, it’s not really made of wax, and can’t be lit. But the town’s folk do wrap a load of Christmas lights around it during the holiday to make it look pretty!