Are candles much different today than they were when we used them for light?



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         Candles have been used for light since ancient times. Until the the eighteenth century, most everyday candles were made of tallow, a kind of animal fat. Tallow candles had an acrid odor, didn’t last very long, and the black smoke they produced could damage furniture, walls, and ceilings. They were used because they were cheap and the material was readily available. 

         Beeswax candles  were introduced to Europe in the middle ages, but they were too expensive for most people to afford. In Colonial America, women discovered that bayberries could be made into sweet-smelling candles, but the process was so time consuming that it wasn’t practical. In the late eighteenth century candles made from spermaceti, crystalized sperm whale oil, were developed. These candles did not emit the odors that tallow candles did, and they did not soften or bend in hot weather.

         Finally, in 1850 , paraffin candles became available. Made from the residues of crude oil refining, paraffin burned odorlessly and was extremely cheap. By this time, the development of gas lighting meant candles were becoming less popular. With the invention of the light bulb in 1879, candles became a decoration rather than a source of light. 

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