America’s first contribution to candle making was marked by the Colonial women who discovered that boiling bayberries produced a sweet smelling wax that burnt without any smoke. Back then candle making was the Colonial women’s necessity which has transformed into a pleasant hobby today.
Candle Making in the Colonial period was done mainly by using tallow (animal fat). For this purpose tallow was boiled till the water in it got evaporated and the dirt could be skimmed away. Colonial women generally used a “tallow dip method”, when candle wicks made of cotton were dipped in a pot of melted tallow. But they produced an unpleasant smell and did not burn well. The colonists eventually discovered that bayberries gave out a pleasant fragrance when added to the wax and also withstood hot temperature and burnt steadily.
But producing bayberry candles turned out to be very cumbersome as it was very difficult to extract wax from them. Candle making with the help of bayberries turned out to be a very tiring & time consuming process which proved to be very hard on the colonial women, as it took eight pounds of bayberries to produce one pound of wax. Though beeswax was available and also burnt clean without any odor, these candles were expensive and only the rich & wealthy could afford them.
In the late 17th & early 18th Century it was discovered that Colonial Candle making process can be carried out with help of wax generated from crystallized sperm whale oil known as spermaceti wax. Just as beeswax, spermaceti wax too did not produce any odor and was also harder than the tallow, bayberry and beeswax. Moreover, it also did not soften with the changing temperatures during summer and burnt longer. The art of colonial candle making witnessed its first “standard candle” being made from Spermaceti wax.
The art of colonial candle making practiced the use of candle moulds. As dipping wicks in tallow to thicken them for a nights use became difficult due to the deformities in the temperature, this drawback paved the way towards the discovery of candle moulds. Early colonial women used wooden moulds which later got substituted by candle moulds made of pewter, sheet iron or tin. Wick making in colonial America was the children’s responsibility, and were made by dipping hemp into saltpeter, which was then twisted & doubled to form a loop at one of the ends. These wicks were placed inside the moulds and then hot tallow or wax was poured over it. Once the tallow or wax had cooled and hardened it was dipped in hot water to release the candle from the mould. This released candle was then polished with cloth. The colonial women considered this as an easier process of candle making than spending days dipping candles.
The late 18th Century witnessed the invention of the light bulb and the 19th century witnessed the use of petroleum based paraffin wax, which led to the decline of the art of colonial candle making which has transformed from a necessity to a pleasant hobby today.