Candles have been in use for thousands of years, yet little is known about their origin. There is no historical record of the first candles used by man, however clay candle holders dating from the 4th century B.C. have been found in Eygpt. The earliest people credited with developing the "wicked" candle are the ancient Romans, before 3,000 B.C. They used rolled papyrus and dipped it repeatedly in melted tallow (cattle or sheep fat) or beeswax.
There is evidence in other civilizations, around that same time, that also developed wicked candles using waxes made from available plants and insects.
Early Chinese candles are said to have been molded in paper tubes, using rolled rice paper for the wick, and wax from an indigenous insect that was combined with seeds. In Japan, candles were made of wax extracted from tree nuts, while in India, candle wax was made by boiling the fruit of the cinnamon tree. The first known candle in America dates to the 1st century A.D., Native Americans burned oily fish(candlefish) wedged into a forked stick. Early missionaries in the southwestern United States boiled the bark of the Cerio tree and skimmed the wax.
In the middle ages most western cultures relied primarily on candles made from animal fat(tallow). A major improvement came when beeswax candles were introduced in Europe. Unlike animal-based tallow, beeswax burned pure and cleanly, without producing a smoky flame. It also emitted a pleasant sweet, smell rather than the foul, bitter odor of tallow. Beeswax candles were widely used for church ceremonies, but because they were expensive, few individuals other than the wealth could afford them in their home. Tallow candles were the common household candle for Europeans, and by the 13th century, candlemaking had become a guild craft in England and France. The candlemakers(chandlers) went from house to house making candles from the kitchen fats saved for that purpose, or made and sold their own candles form small candle shops.
In America, the colonial women discovered that boiling the grayish-green berries of bayberry bushes produced a sweet-smelling wax that burned cleanly. However, extracting the wax from the berries was extremely tedious. As a result, the popularity of bayberry candles soon diminished. The growth of the whaling industry in the late 18th century brought the first major change in candlemaking since the Middle Ages,when spermaceti, a wax obtained by crystallizing sperm whale oil, became available in quantity. Like beeswax, the spermaceti wax did not elict a repugnant odor when burned, and produced a significantly brighter light. It also was harder than either tallow or beeswax, so it wouldn't soften or bend in the summer.
Historians note that the first "standard candles" were made from spermaceti wax. Also, a pure spermaceti candle is the measure for candlepower. Candlepower is a common term for describing light output. It is based on a measurement of the light produced by a pure spermaceti candle weighing one sixth of a pound, burning at a rate of 120 grams per hour. During the 19th century is when most of the major contemporary candlemaking developements occurred. In the 1820s, French chemist Michel Eugene Chevreul discovered how to extract steric acid form animal fatty acids. This lead to the development of stearin wax, which was hard, durable and burned cleanly. Stearin candles remain papular in Europe today. In 1834, inventor Joseph Morgan helped to further the modern-day candle industry by developing a machine that allowed for continuous production of molded candles by using a cylinder with a movable piston to eject candles as they solidified. With the introduction of mechanized production, candles became an easily affordable commodity for the masses. Paraffin wax was introduced in the 1850s, after chemists learned how to efficiently separate the naturally-occurring waxy subtance from petroleum and refine it. Odorless and bluish-white in color, paraffin was a boon to candlemaking because it burned cleanly, consistently and was more economical to produce than any other candle fuel.
Today's candle is vastly different from the candles of old, the industry has grown and matured into a well oiled machine. You can purchase almost any type, size, style, or fragrance of your choice. And the internet has made it easier to come by candles than ever before.