Over the next two weeks the Museum is going to welcome many school children to participate in our ‘Day in the Life of a Victorian Child’ program. One of the components is a candle making demonstration. It always amazes me when kids these days are fascinated by the simplicity of the pioneer and Victorian lifestyle. They find it so hard to believe you couldn’t just flip a switch and voila! They also have a hard time with the fact that kids had A LOT of chores to do. To make a decent sized candle, it would take 40 dips into wax. Can you imagine any child these days staying still long enough to dip candles 40 times?!
Candles have been around for millennia. People began to settle North America and fireplaces were the norm in all small cottages and cabins. As houses got larger, there was a need for portable light. Settlers would make their own wicking using the fluff from milkweed pods. They would twist it together until it created something akin to yarn or thin rope. Tallow from sheep and beef was used for wax. They wicking was tied onto a stick and dipped into a pot of melted tallow and water. This is known as the hand dipped method. However, tallow candles smelled quite bad and often brought rodents and other small pests into the house because they were attracted to the smell. Eventually when paraffin wax became available, it was used.
As more settlers arrived, small villages grew and sometimes a store would be opened where the imported candle molds could be purchased. Occasionally a tinsmith in the area would make the molds as well. The wick used in these molds could be bought at the general store. The wick was thread through the holes and tied around the twigs, making sure to tie a knot at the end to prevent seepage of wax. The melted tallow was poured into each section of the mold.
Eventually homes began using oil lamps as they became available at local shops or through catalogues. I’m fairly certain that the children were glad not to spend half a day dipping candles anymore!