Forbes.com readers, editors and a panel of experts rank the candle as the 14th most important tool of all time, in terms of its impact on human civilization. For millennia, the candle has driven progress, allowing users to extend productive hours beyond sundown.
The first candles most likely date back more than 3,000 years, when people soaked reeds into liquid fat and burned them for light. The Romans improved the process, inventing the fiber wick, and during the Middle Ages, beeswax candles were introduced. They became important parts of religious ceremony, their lighting used to mark holy days and accompany prayer. And since a candle’s burn rate is fairly consistent, they were often used to tell time-some candles even had hour measurements marked into the wax.
Consumers still turn to the little waxy rods for light in a pinch, or to set the mood on a romantic night. Most of today’s modern candles are made by machines that pour paraffin and stearic acid into molds, although handmade candles are still popular. Despite our modern electric world, the design, marketing and distribution of candles is still a brisk business, fueling companies such as Blyth, Lancaster Colony and The Yankee Candle Company.