Ciao Amici! (Hello Friends!)
Today I want to talk with you about who invented the scented candle. Just a brief look through blogs, history, Academia.edu articles, Google search, Google Scholar, etc., you will discover along with me there is not an exact answer such as this:
See how clear that is? It is clearly evident.
Now, look at this:
See what I am talking about? It is allegedly Han China, Ancient Egyptians, Ancient India, Japan, the Romans, or even as late as 1820 being Michel Chevreul. I highly doubt that because think about it: Ancient India was already adding boiled cinnamon to yak butter. If we add cinnamon to anything, especially boiling, it is going to scent the entire area with that warm spicy scent.
When it comes to scented candles... I believe it is Ancient India.
It's The Romans.
When we are talking about the wicked candle, it seems like it's the Romans. Here is why I say that. The wicked candle as we know it today is attributed to the Romans. While searching for more information about the history of candlemaking, I found the most direct, helpful article at Candlewic.
The Romans took papyrus, rolled it up, and dipped it repeatedly into animal fat. They used these candles for lighting their homes or religious ceremonies. They also used candles when they were travelling. They were practical and used for decoration.
We rarely use candles for lighting today. If the power goes out, we are rushing around searching for candles. So we only use them in emergencies. We use them for ambience, personality, and home decor.
Things we were all great on the Roman homefront. That is until...
The Roman Empire Fell
When the Roman Empire fell, this meant olive oil was very scarce throughout Europe. Not only did they use it for lighting the home, making perfumes, massages, cleaning off after exercise, it was also a diet staple. They used olive oil for treating all sorts of illnesses, too.
Here is a olive oil container found in Sicily over the last 20 years.
- Conflict between the Emperor and the Senate
- Weakening of the emperor’s authority (after Christianity the Emperor was no longer seen as a god)
- Political Corruption – there was never a clear-cut system for choosing a new emperor, leading the ones in power to “sell” the position to the highest bidder.
- Money wasting – the Romans were very fond of their prostitutes and orgies and wasted a lot of money on lavish parties, as well as their yearly “games”
- Slave labor and price competition – Large, wealthy farm owners used slaves to work their farms, allowing them to farm cheaply, in contrast to smaller farmers who had to pay their workmen and could not compete price wise. Farmers had to sell their farms, leading to high unemployment figures.
- Economical Decline – After Marcus Aurelius, the Romans stopped expanding their empire, causing in a decrease of gold coming into the empire. The Romans however kept spending, causing coinmakers to use less gold, decreasing the value of money.
- Military spending – Because they wasted so much money and had to defend their borders all the time, the Government focused more on military spending than building houses or other public works, which enraged the people. Many stopped volunteering for the army, forcing the government to employ hired mercenaries, who were expensive, highly unreliable and ended up turning against the Roman Empire.
- A stop in technological advancement – The Romans were great engineers, but did not focus on how to produce goods more effectively to provide to their growing population.
- The Eastern Empire – The Roman Empire was divided in a Eastern and Western empire that drifted apart, making the empire easier to manage, but also weaker. Maybe the empire’s rapid expansion was its own downfall in the end.
- Civil War and Barbarian Invasion – Civil war broke out in Italy and the smaller Roman army had to focus all of its attention there, leaving the borders wide open for the barbarians to attack and invade. Barbarian bandits made travel in the empire unsafe and merchants could not get goods to the cities anymore, leading to the total collapse of the empire
So as you can see, rolling all these factors together, it is much easier to understand how it fell and what the implications meant.
Take it forward to the pandemic. Remember when people were running out of toilet paper everywhere in the USA and people were losing it over needing toilet paper?
Imagine all of the Romans who now had olive oil in scarce supply! Olive oil was medicine. It was a cleanser. It was perfume. It was light. It was even given as a prize to gladiators.
The simple law of supply and demand.
No supply + demand for quality candles = Opportunity.
Candlemakers were born.
After some time...
Aristocracy and the Roman Church wanted beeswax candles. The difference between beeswax and tallow was the smell. Tallow candles smoked horribly and had an offensive odor while beeswax didn't smoke and had a pleasant smell.
Candlemakers or Chandlers as they were called in Medieval times, had an important skill before commercial lighting.
They provided light for the community and events.
Chandlers, if they made good with their craft, were able to purchase land and move to the country, and hire people to manage their shops. Others chandlers lived above their shops or locally.
Moving forward through the centuries, things were happening in the candlemaking but they got huge when Michel Eugène Chevreul, a French chemist, changed it all.
First and foremost, a little known fact about him: He invented this wheel right here called the Cercle Chromatique "Chromatic Circle".
Candlemakers all over the world know about colors. Customers like to purchase by color sometimes not just fragrance.
Michel Chevreul came from a distinguished background of surgeons so it is perhaps no surprise he became interested in chemistry. He was a professor of Chemistry at Lycée Charlemagne where he carried out his research on color contrast for 26 years. He finally published his findings in 1839 entitled De la loi du contraste simultané des couleurs. 15 years later it was published in English entitled The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors.
While working on color contrast research, Chevreul worked on animal fats. It was here he discovered the composition of stearin.
"These enabled him to elucidate the true nature of soap; he was also able to discover the composition of stearin, a white substance found in the solid parts of most animal and vegetable fats, and olein, the liquid part of any fat, and to isolate stearic and oleic acids, the names of which he invented."
This work led to important improvements in the processes of candlemaking.
Michel Chevreul was a very interesting person living a long, full vibrant life to the age of 102 contributing to many ways of making society better.
He lived through the French Revolution and saw the Eiffel Tower completion. He is one of only 72 French scientists whose names are on the Eiffel Tower.