History Of Colonial Candle Making


The history of colonial candle making dates back to early America in the 1600s. Notable people such as Henry Williams, Benjamin Harris,Jabez Gorham and Job Smith are credited with pioneering the candlemaking industry during this period. With the introduction of lard rendered from pigs as a principle material used for candle production, these colonists revolutionized the industry by producing hundreds of small coils for lighting homes before electricity was available.

Williams was known for establishing one of the earliest factories that made candles from whale oil in Boston in 1644. His enterprise quickly became one of the most successful enterprises in early America and provided needed light during nighttime hours. Harris was also instrumental in candlemaking history when he took over Williams’ factory following his death in 1657 and created new techniques to costume-mold candles into intricate shapes. Meanwhile, Gorham and Smith teamed up to refine existing commercial processes for tallow-based waxes; this allowed them to produce larger amounts of more consistent quality candles for sale throughout New England at the time. This practice soon spread across all major U.S ports bringing this product to a wider range of consumers due to its affordability and reliability.

By 1790, more than 3 million pounds of tallow were produced every year within colonial borders contributing significantly to local economies throughout America as well as in Europe where candlemaking traditions were widespread centuries prior to its US counterpart’s origins. Although candlelighting technologies have since been superseded by gas lights and electrical lighting, many aspects of traditional methods remain alive today inspiring artisans across generations of makers who appreciate its beauty and symbolism.

Where It Began

1600s: The earliest known records of the production of candles date back to this time in Europe. These early candles were typically made of tallow and beeswax.

1700s: Early colonial candle makers began using whale fat and spermaceti (a wax-like substance found in the head cavity of sperm whales) to make their candles, as it produced a more consistent flame and brighter light than beeswax and tallow.

1730s: Spermaceti was discovered, leading to even brighter candles that could burn longer while providing a steady light.

1800s: At this time, candle making became a common job in many households all over America. Candles were often used for lighting up homes, churches, schools, businesses, etc., as there was no other source of consistent electricity yet.

1850s: Candlewick weaving technology rose to prominence during this period resulting in sturdier and higher quality wicks for burning the candles safely.

1900s: The arrival of paraffin wax allowed for an inexpensive alternative to bee’s wax and whale fat due to its accessible supply from petroleum refineries around the world. This resulted in cheaper production for candle makers and a much better quality product for consumers.

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2010: The invention of LED lights have significantly decreased the need for wax-based candles but home decor products such as scented candles are still very popular among consumers today.

Popularization in the Colonies

As the New World colonies began to establish permanent settlements, they started to develop a diverse economic system in which candle making was an important part due to the need of light in homes and churches. Candle making allowed colonists to use local resources easily found within their towns- including beeswax and tallow rendered from animal fats- as the raw materials for creating light sources. Often times this job was left to women since it was considered easier than manual labor such as farming, thereby creating an important source of income for colonial families. This minor industry proved beneficial in other ways, too; individual craftsmen often sold candles in small markets and at public gatherings, thus promoting commerce between colonial towns and introducing new economic opportunities in the form of trades.

Moreover, candle making had effects on cultural life outside of economics; these products were a necessity (as lighting options were limited) that enabled regular people to enjoy the arts through both religious worship services (lighting Christian figures on altars) and recreational activities (dancing, singing). The success of candle makers contributed to an increase in people’s standard of living, enabling them to focus on leisure instead of purely focusing on subsistence strategies for surviving day by day. Thus, it can be said that colonial candle making had a major impact US history, culture and economy- it influenced trade networks within colonies and created social opportunities that helped shape American society today.

The Industrial Revolution and Candle Making

During the Industrial Revolution, there were many advances and inventions that allowed for mass-produced candle-making. With the invention of the cotton gin in 1794, which increased the production of short-staple cotton, industrialists began utilizing this newly abundant resource by producing large amounts of cotton wicking. Additionally, efficient wick rolling machines such as the Davis and Leach machine (invented in 1790) sped up the traditional time consuming process of manually rolling a long length of cotton into many smaller twisted strands.

The 1850s saw some major breakthroughs in making candle molds more streamlined and uniform. Various improvements to internal spring mechanisms allowed molds to be created that could hold up to 95 candles at a time. This development enabled mass production on an unprecedented level, greatly increasing supply and consequently if demand for candle making materials contributed greatly to larger accessibility for potential business owners or individual crafters who wanted to now pursue careers involving candle making.

The rise of synthetic paraffin wax also significantly impacted the industry due to its improved quality consistency when compared with its predecessor beeswax or tallow-based candle waxes. Further innovations like stearic acid stabilized wax enabled greater control over fragrance levels along with slower burning results and more stable coloring throughout the entire production process.

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The Industrial Revolution ushered in an era of cost-effective mass production that transformed industries around the world ” including colonial candle making. Through experienced technologists, craftspersons, engineers, business owners and more who drove innovation forward during this period in history we can continue enjoying these candles today as much as ever before.

Modern Colonial Candle Making

Today, the ancient tradition of colonial candle making is still carried on by many modern-day artisans and producers. Companies like Colonial Candle and Yankee Candle specialize in recreating the classic designs and scents that make up the legacy of colonial candlemaking. Furthermore, many individual candle makers have become popular due to their dedication to quality craftsmanship when it comes to creating their own unique takes on the centuries-old art – often with the use of old-fashioned tools, materials and techniques. Some boutique brands even feature hand poured candles formed in special molds passed down through generations or reinterpreted antique pieces combined with various waxes, fragrances, and bits of memorabilia such as handmade buttons or home grown herbs. This ongoing tradition truly gives a glimpse into a rich part of our ancestors’ lives that is sure to last for years to come.


The colonial era saw numerous candle-making traditions come to life. Through careful practice and skillful adaptation, colonial Americans perfected the art of making quality candles that range from traditional wooden molds to colorful chandlers. This tradition continues today with many passionate artisans working hard to revive and support these old methods of candle-making.

Those wishing to get involved in and support modern day artisans and colonial candle-making traditions can research local artisanal craft shops, events, or classes where these goods are created by hand. Online stores such as Etsy are a great resource for connecting shoppers with unique handmade items such as candles crafted in the same way they were hundreds of years ago. Additionally, supporting small businesses who create their goods with time-honored techniques helps build sustainable communities by keeping traditional arts alive. Finally, individuals can make a direct contribution to preserving this classic craft by attending workshops or shows that feature the works of independent candle makers. By celebrating rising talent and recognizing those rooted in tradition, it is possible to both preserve past techniques while investing in the future of colonial candle making.

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