Before the invention of modern electrical lighting, the old saying held true, “Wake with the sun, sleep with the moon.” You used the natural light of the day to work and perform duties, but once the sun set, you went to bed. Although people had candles to burn, because of the time-consuming process to make them, they would have been lit only when necessary.
Candles, made of practically anything that would burn and give off light while it melted, have been used for more than 5,000 years. Candle molds were introduced for candle-making in the 15th century in Paris, France. The cheapest candles were made from tallow (rendered animal fat), which produced a lot of smoke and a foul odor. Colonial settlers discovered boiling bayberry berries produced a sweet-smelling wax. Paraffin helped. Beeswax was better, but expensive. Spermaceti candles were the best, but few whales wandered up the Monongahela River. When the lightbulb was introduced in 1879, candle-making declined.
Gerard Weiss is a volunteer for the Washington County Historical Society and a member of the antiquities committee.