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One of the earliest forms of portable illumination, candles have served vital functions for humankind throughout history, a fact chronicled through the discovery of candles or candle-like objects in virtually every society. Historians believe the original candle may have been invented by primitive men who dipped dried branches in animal fat, thus producing a slow-burning and reliable source of light. Reliefs belonging to the ancient Egyptians depict the use of candles by writers and philosophers who worked well after sundown. These early candles were most likely developed from tapers that were made of fibrous materials mixed with wax or tallow (the white, nearly tasteless fat of cattle or sheep that was also used to make soap, margarine, and lubricants). As far back as 3000 b.c., dish-shaped candles were used on the island of Crete.

Candles have also been used for religious purposes. The Bible, for instance, makes numerous references to the use of candles, including the story of King Solomon who, after building the Temple, used ten candle-sticks to light the north and south ends of the structure. In the Middle Ages, candlemaking became a popular occupation, as evidenced by the creation of many candlemakers' guilds throughout Europe. Later, candles were used as a means of keeping time. At auctions, the bidding time was limited by inserting a pin into a candle and letting the wax melt until the pin dropped, thus concluding that period of time.

Although the materials that comprise a candle have changed through the years, the art of candlemaking has remained surprisingly similar to the original production processes. Candle wicks were, at first, made of reeds or rushes; eventually, various natural fibers were used. In 1824, Frenchman Jean-Jacques Cambaraceres introduced an important refinement in wick technology with the plaited wick, which burned more evenly than unplaited wicks. Twisted or plaited cotton still makes up most wicks today.

Animal or vegetable fats were used for the first candles. As candlemaking technology progressed, beeswax became widely used, mainly because of its pleasing odor and the absence of the mess that melting fats produced.

After the Revolutionary War, the whaling industry in America skyrocketed. However, not every type of whale was cherished solely for its blubber. The sperm whale was also used for its spermacetithe wax taken from the oil of this huge mammal. This wax was used extensively as the fishing industry began to expand. The spermaceti candle was popular because it had no acrid odor, did not soften in summer temperatures, and burned evenly. Ozokerite, a colorless mineral hydrocarbon wax with a high melting point, was also popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As candle technology advanced, animal fats were separated, leaving behind more desirable solid fatty acids such as stearine that had no odor and gave a brighter light. Paraffin, a wax crystallized from petroleum, became popular during the 1860s and was eventually blended with spermaceti and ceresina byproduct of refined petroleum oilto create a more durable wax.

The original candles were produced through the dipping method. Dating back to the Middle Ages, this method used wicks made from dried rushes, which were peeled on all but one side, revealing the pith. The wicks were repeatedly dipped into the molten fat until the fat had stuck to the wick at a desired thickness. Beeswax candles were constructed using both the dipping method and pouring method. In the pouring method, the melted beeswax is poured over a suspended cotton wick while the wick is simultaneously and manually twirled. After a sufficient amount of wax has gathered at the bottom of the wick, the candled is reversed and poured from the other end.

Large-scale manufacture of candles became a reality only after 1834, when Joseph Morgan introduced the first mass-production candlemaking machine. Today's modern machines are strikingly similar to that original machine, with speed, accuracy and finished quality the only major differences.

Raw Materials

As mentioned earlier, the types of wax used in the construction of candles have changed greatly during the past few centuries. Today, substances are often mixed together to create stronger candles with higher melting points. In the United States, standard commercial candles usually contain 60 percent paraffin, 35 percent stearic acid, and 5 percent beeswax. Some candles contain small amounts of candelilla or carnauba waxes (from the carnauba palm) to regulate the softening or melting point of the finished wax. Beeswax candles are made of only pure insect wax and paraffin plus a small amount of stiffening wax. The wick is made of a high grade of cotton or linen. The material is woven (or braided) so that it will burn in one direction and will curl so that its end remains in the candle flame's oxidizing zone for even and intense burning. Often, wire-core wicks are used. These wicks have a wire center that allows them to burn slightly hotter than cotton and remain erect in the melted wax.

Decorative candles often use waxes other than beeswax and paraffin. Bayberry wax (or wax myrtle, as it is sometimes referred to) is derived from the fruit of the bayberry bush and has a distinctive aroma making it especially popular for use at Christmas. Non-burning wax is used in those parts of a candlemostly the shells or ornaments of decorative candlesthat are not intended to burn.

The Manufacturing

The manufacturing of candles consists of three steps: preparation of the wicking, preparation of the wax base, and continuous molding or extrusion of the finished candles.

Making the wick

  • 1 The cotton or linen wicks are braided and then treated with chemicals or inorganic salt solutions so that they bend at a 90 degree angle when burning. This angle allows the end to remain in the outer mantle of the flame and causes it to be shortened naturally. If the wick is not treated, it will burn too quickly and the flame will be extinguished by the melted wax. However, if the wick burns too slowly, then the amount of exposed wick increases and the candle becomes dangerous.

Preparing the wax base

  • 2 First, the wax is heated and melted into a clear, near-liquid state in huge metal kettles. Wax melted by direct flame can become dark-colored or can contain small pieces of carbon char. Next, the molten wax must be carefully filtered to remove impurities that may interfere with the burning process. Any desired perfumes and dyes are added at this time. Although most wax arriving at the manufacturer conforms to strict purity standards, many companies still filter their wax to be sure of a high-quality finished product.

Molding the candle

  • 3 Since the invention of Morgan's first candlemaking machine, the construction of candles has been performed mainly by continuous molding machines, although manual machines are still used by some companies. Continuous molding machines are designed to make candles in groups ranging anywhere from 50 to 500 per load. The entire process takes almost 30 minutes per load.
  • 4 Prior to the pouring of the wax, the wick is pulled through the tip of the mold. This tip has a hole in it through which the wick passes from a spool located beneath the entire molding machine. The molds, which are made of tin, have polished interior surfaces and are slightly tapered for easier ejection of the finished candle.
  • 5 The wax is cooled to slightly above its melting point and poured into a molding table located above the molds. The wax then works its way into each mold; the molds are pre-heated so the wax will flow evenly into them. After the wax is poured, a jacket around each mold is filled with cold water to speed up the solidification process. Once the wax has solidified, the finished candles are pulled upwards out of the molds, allowing the wicks to again thread through the molds in preparation for the next load of candles. The wicks are snipped, and the process begins again. Excess wax is trimmed, collected and re-used. The continuous molding process is used to make cylindrical, tapered or fluted candles as long as they can be easily ejected from the mold.


  • 6 An alternate method uses extrusion, a process in which crushed paraffin wax is forced through a heated steel die under extreme pressure. At the same time, the wax is consolidated around the wick. Unlike molding machines, extrusion machines produce a continuous length of candle, which is then cut into specific sizes. Next, the tips of the candles are formed by rotation cutters, and the candles are sent to an automated packing machine.

Where To Learn More


Constable, David. Candlemaking. Schwartz, Arthur & Co., Inc., 1993.

Millington, Deborah. Tradition Candle-making: Simple Methods of Manufacture. Intermediate Technology Development Group of North America, 1992.

Shaw, Ray. Candle Art. William Morrow, 1973.

Taylor, Richard. Beeswax Molding & Candle Making. Linden Books, 1985.

Webster, William and Claire McMullen. Contemporary Candlemaking. Doubleday, 1972.

Webster, William and Claire McMullen. The Complete Book of Candlemaking. Doubleday, 1973.


Rupp, Becky. "The Art of Candle Making," Blair & Ketchum's Country Journal. January, 1986, p. 57.

Jim Acton

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In the Bible and Mishnah only oil-lamps and torches were used for lighting (see *Pottery). The torch (lappid) is not only mentioned in the Bible (Gen. 15:17) but also in Assyrian sources. It was used to spread fire in time of battle (Judg. 15:4–5; Isa. 62:1) and as a bright light (Judg. 7:16; Dan. 10:6), but because of its excessive smoke it was not employed much. In the Mishnah, the torch is mentioned as being liable to similar impurity as the lamp (Kelim 2:8). In later times candles made of tallow mixed with palm oil or wax, or candles of paraffin, gradually took the place of oil, especially in Europe. Although there is traditional basis for the use of candles in Judaism, undoubtedly their widespread employment in the rites of the Catholic Church encouraged their use among medieval Jewry. Even though people generally used candles, oil was still regarded as the more appropriate fuel for ritual purposes, especially for the Sabbath and *Ḥanukkah lights. This was because prior to the invention of paraffin candles, candles were often made from the fat of ritually forbidden animals. Oil was considered a more appropriate fuel for Ḥanukkah lamps because the miracle occurred with oil, and it was recommended for the *ner tamid ("eternal light") in front of the synagogue ark because of its symbolic significance as a substitute for the candelabrum (*menorah) in the Temple. For the same reason oil was used for the light kindled at the death of a person and during the whole mourning period (see *Mourning rites) as well as on the anniversary of a person's death (*Yahrzeit), although these customs are unknown in the Shulḥan Arukh, and appear late. But paraffin candles gradually replaced the oil lights and still later, with the introduction of electricity, small electric bulbs gradually replaced the ner tamid.

R. Moses b. Mordecai *Basola reported in his Shivḥei Yerushalayim (cf. I. Ben-Zvi, Masot Ereẓ Yisrael, pp. 21, 72) that it was customary in the synagogues of Jerusalem on weekdays to carry a candle before the scroll of the Torah when it was removed from the ark and taken to the *bimah. It was counted a special mitzvah to hold this candle while the Torah was being read. Similarly, in other parts of the world, candles still accompany the Torah when it is taken to a special place in the synagogue, to symbolize the light of the law. For the *Havdalah ceremony at the departure of the Sabbath a braided wax candle having at least two wicks is used (because of the benediction "who createst the lights of the fire"), though in the absence of a braided candle two candles having one wick each may be held together. In the Sephardi rite, however, a simple unbraided candle is used in the Havdalah blessing. A simple candle is also used for the ceremony of searching for leaven (bedikat ḥameẓ) on the evening before Passover. Candles are also lit at the popular celebrations (hillula) on the anniversary of the death of rabbis and scholars, especially of R. Simeon b. Yoḥai and R. Meir Ba'al ha-Nes (see *Lag ba-Omer) and in some communities also on Hoshana Rabba night during the study vigil (tikkun) in the synagogue. In the period of the Second Temple, one of the most popular festivities was the kindling of candles and torches on the eve of the first day of Tabernacles on the Water-Drawing Festival (Simḥat Beit ha-Sho'evah). It became customary, especially among Oriental Jews, to light candles on the traditional graves of famous historical leaders, rabbis, etc. (e.g., King David, Simeon b. Yoḥai).

[Meir Ydit]

Candles and Women

Although technically not a commandment specified in the Torah, kindling lights to usher in the Sabbath and festivals was transformed into an obligation by the rabbis. Kindling lights is a positive time-bound commandment, a category of obligations from which women were traditionally exempted in Jewish law. However, from early rabbinic times, lighting Sabbath and festival lights was considered one of three mitzvot (commandments), together with *ḥallah and *niddah, which women were obligated to perform even if men were present in the household. These three commandments are known as the ḤaNaH mitzvot, an acronym of Ḥallah, Niddah, and Hadlakat ha-Ner, which, in a play on words, also evokes Hannah, the mother of the biblical Samuel. A number of midrashic sources declare that these obligations are female punishments or atonement for the disobedience of the first female in the Garden of Eden (arnb 9 and 42; Gen. R. 17:8; Shab. 2:6, 8b). According to the Mishnah (Shab. 2:6), women who neglect these commandments risk death in childbirth (also arnb 42).

Jewish women have traditionally taken the observance of kindling Sabbath and festival lights seriously. In the contemporary era, where candles are generally used, women usually light two candles. Some women, who forget for even one week, add an extra candle for the rest of their lives; others add a candle on the birth of each child. Among some groups women do not begin to light their own candles until marriage while among others, such as the Lubavitcher ḥasidim, even young girls are encouraged to light one candle. Since the candles are lit before the blessing is said, women have traditionally covered their eyes while saying the benediction so that the light will only become visible after the blessing is completed. On Friday night some women make circles with their arms and hands before covering their eyes in a gesture of welcome to the Sabbath queen. Several popular vernacular tekhinnot were written for women to recite after completing the benediction and before uncovering their eyes. If there is no woman over bat mitzvah age present, then a man must light the candles and say the benediction.

[Rela Mintz Geffen (2nd ed.)]

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CANDLES lighted most American homes, public buildings, and streets until gas (1820s) and kerosene lamps (1850s) replaced them. Women in each family made many kinds of candles, from the common, made from tallow, to the expensive, made from beeswax. They also used a variety of other materials, such as bear grease, deer suet, bayberry, spermaceti, and well-rendered mutton fat. Every autumn, they filled leather or tin boxes with enough candles to last through the winter. To make candles, women first prepared wicks from rough hemp, milkweed, or cotton spun in large quantity. Then they under-took the lengthy task of dipping or molding several hundred candles by hand.

Homemakers were the exclusive candle makers until the 1700s, when itinerant candle makers could be hired. Later, professional chandlers prospered in the cities. Although factories were numerous after 1750, home dip-ping continued as late as 1880. The West Indies provided a large market for sperm candles, purchasing over 500,000 pounds of sperm and tallow candles from the colonies in 1768. The total production of candles from both factories and homes was valued at an estimated $8 million in 1810. The New England factories, the largest producers, imported supplies of fat from Russia. Large plants also existed in New Orleans, Louisiana; St. Louis, Missouri; and Hudson, New York. South Carolina and Georgia produced quantities of seeds and capsules from tallow trees used extensively for candle making in the South. Allied industries grew rapidly for making metal and pottery candle holders.


Cowan, Ruth Schwartz. A Social History of American Technology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Wright, Louis B. Everyday Life in Colonial America. New York: Putnam, 1966.

Lena G.FitzHugh/c. w.

See alsoHide and Tallow Trade ; Kerosene Oil ; Lamp, Incandescent ; Whaling .

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Candles were used by the Romansnot only for necessary lighting but also for veneration of the gods, of the dead, and of the emperor. From the earliest Christian times candles were used for the Lucernarium (the 2d-century ceremonial light for evening prayer, the ancestor of the paschal candle); borne in funeral processions; burned at the tombs of the dead, especially of the martyrs (from the 3d century); and lighted before relics of the saints and sacred images (4th5th centuries). From the same period candles in great numbers were used to give splendor in churches and particularly around the high altar.

From the 7th century there is evidence of the use of candles at Mass. They were borne in procession to the altar, carried for the chanting of the Gospel, and placed around the altar. Only in the 11th century did they make their appearance on the altar table. From the early 17th century came legislation making obligatory the use of candles at Mass and determining their number. Under the 1917 Code of Canon Law, candles had to be of pure beeswax saltem ex maxima parte (reckoned as at least 65 percent) for the paschal candle and for Mass, and beeswax in "notable quantity" (reckoned as at least 25 percent) for all other candles burned on the altar. Because of local shortages a decree of the Congregation of Rites, given in December 1957, permitted the episcopal conference of any country to determine what was "a becoming part" of beeswax for altar candles if it was difficult to obtain. The previous legislation also prescribed that two candles were to be burned at low mass, six at solemn high mass, and seven for a festal pontifical mass. At solemn Mass two candles were borne in procession and for the chanting of the Gospel, and two or more were carried as torches for the Consecration. Two candles were also lighted on the altar whenever the Blessed Sacrament is taken from the tabernacle; if it was solemnly exposed 20, or at least 12, were used. These provisions are no longer mandated under the present 1983 Code of Canon Law.

A blessing has been in use for candles since the 15th century. There is no obligation to bless candles for liturgical use except the paschal candle and the candles used for the liturgy of candlemas (Feast of the Presentation of the Lord; February 2).

Bibliography: j. b. o'connell, Church Building and Furnishing (Notre Dame, Ind. 1955) 208210. j. p. beal, et al., eds., New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (New York 2000).

[j. b. o'connell/eds.]

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Traditionally oil was considered a more appropriate fuel for liturgical lights, because candles tended to be made from ritually unclean animals. However, by the Middle Ages, possibly influenced by their use in the Roman Catholic Church, candles were employed for Sabbath lights, for the Havdalah (dividing) ceremony, for searching for leaven at Passover, for Ḥanukkah (Lights), for the ner tamid (eternal light) hanging before the synagogue ark, and for Yahrzeit (commemoration of the dead).


In liturgical churches it is usual to have two or more candles (‘altar lights’) on the altar, and they may also be carried in procession. Votive candles are also lit before statues or icons in churches (Catholic and Orthodox respectively) as personal offerings.

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can·dle / ˈkandl/ • n. a cylinder or block of wax or tallow with a central wick that is lit to produce light as it burns. ∎  (also international candle) Physics a unit of luminous intensity, superseded by the candela. • v. [tr.] (often be candled) (of a poultry breeder) test (an egg) for freshness or fertility by holding it to the light. PHRASES: be unable to hold a candle to inf. be not nearly as good as: nobody in the final could hold a candle to her.DERIVATIVES: can·dler / ˈkandlər; -dl-ər/ n.

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candleaddle, paddle, saddle, skedaddle, staddle, straddle •candle, Coromandel, dandle, Handel, handle, mishandle, Randall, sandal, scandal, vandal •manhandle, panhandle •packsaddle • side-saddle •backpedal, heddle, medal, meddle, pedal, peddle, treadle •Grendel, Kendall, Lendl, Mendel, Rendell, sendal, Wendell •cradle, ladle •beadle, bipedal, credal, needle, wheedle •diddle, fiddle, griddle, kiddle, Liddell, middle, piddle, riddle, twiddle •brindle, dwindle, kindle, spindle, swindle, Tyndale •paradiddle, taradiddle •pyramidal • apsidal •bridal, bridle, fratricidal, genocidal, germicidal, homicidal, idle, idol, infanticidal, insecticidal, intertidal, matricidal, parricidal, patricidal, pesticidal, regicidal, sidle, suicidal, tidal, tyrannicidal, uxoricidal •coddle, doddle, model, noddle, swaddle, toddle, twaddle, waddle •fondle, rondel •mollycoddle •caudal, chordal, dawdle •poundal, roundel •Gödel, modal, yodel •crinoidal •boodle, caboodle, canoodle, doodle, feudal, noodle, poodle, strudel, udal •befuddle, cuddle, fuddle, huddle, muddle, puddle, ruddle •bundle, trundle •prebendal • synodal •antipodal, tripodal •citadel •curdle, engirdle, girdle, hurdle •dirndl

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candle, cylinder of wax or tallow containing a wick, used for illumination or for ceremonial purposes. The evidence of ancient writings is not conclusive as to the history of the candle; words translated "candle" may have meant "torch" or "lamp," and the "candlestick" was probably a stand for one of these lights. The candle probably evolved from wood, rushes, or cords dipped in fat or pitch. Candles as well as lamps were used in Roman times; by the Middle Ages candles (tallow for the poor and wax for the wealthier) were quite common in Europe. Tallow, beeswax, and vegetable wax such as bayberry in the American colonies, candleberry in the East, and waxberry in South America were supplemented by spermaceti in the late 18th cent., by stearine c.1825, and by paraffin c.1850. Twisted strands for wicks were replaced (c.1825) by the plaited wick. Candles were commonly made by repeated dipping in melted tallow, by pouring tallow or wax into molds, or by pouring beeswax over the wicks. Most modern candles are machine-made by a molding process, although candle making as an art survives in industrialized countries. In literature, art, and religion the candle has had a wide range of symbolism; it commonly represents joy, reverence for the divine, and sacrifice (since the candle spends itself).

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candle a candle is the emblem of St Genevieve, St Blaise, and St Gudule.
cannot hold a candle to be nowhere near as good as. The positive form of this expression (recorded in the mid 16th century) makes plain the literal sense of an assistant holding a candle to provide illumination for a superior to work by. The current negative version implies that the subordinate is so far inferior as to be unfit to perform even this humble task.
in candle an expression used of a horse chestnut tree in flower.
not worth the candle not justifiable because of the trouble or cost involved. The idea is that expenditure on a candle to provide light for an activity would not be recouped by the profits from that activity. The expression is of French origin, recorded from the early 17th century.
sell by the candle dispose of by auction in which bids are received so long as a small piece of candle burns, the last bid before the candle goes out securing the article; the custom was apparently French in origin.

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candle, in weights and measures, unit of luminous intensity; it is defined as 1/60 of the intensity of a blackbody, or ideal radiator, at the temperature at which platinum solidifies (2,046°K). The candle is one of the fundamental units of the International System of Units; its official name is the candela. See photometry.