How Were Candles Invented?

Long before the advent of the light bulb, candles were our primary form of artificial light, with the art of candlemaking, or chandlery, both celebrated and profitable for those with the necessary tools and expertise. Indeed, while today candles are made en masse by machines, right up until the early-20th century teams of workers harvested the raw ingredients, prepared them in industrial workshops and moulded them into the finished product. Of course, with the arrival of the electric light bulb, the industry went into decline. Take a closer look at a typical Victorian candlemaking workshop in this annotated illustration.


Candle ingredients

  1. Rending the fat – Before modern-day wax varieties were produced candles were made with tallow, which was rendered by melting animal fat.
  1. Storing the tallow – The melted tallow was put in large vats for easy transport. Metal kettles were used to scoop it up for pouring into moulds.
  1. Preparing the wicks – Professional makers spun wicks out of strands of cotton. Amateur makers used strands of any material they could acquire.
  1. Dipping the wicks – Prepared wicks were dipped in tallow repeatedly to build up a base layer and lend the wick some strength.
  1. Pouring the tallow – Often piston-powered moulds took a wick through a small hole before melted tallow was poured in around it.
  1. Hanging the candles – Once extracted from the mould, the candle would be cleaned and hung from a rack to harden before being sold.