Candle Making

Feature Story April 2004
Candle Making
Written by Elma Heim Griffiths
When our people first came to Nebraska candles were still in use to a great extent. There was also the “fat lamp” a sort of saucer, a smoky affair. Quite a number of years later there were a few “coal oil” lamps. People were rather slow at using them, as they feared they would explode, and a few of them did. Rebecca and Sophia (my mother and aunt), when they were grown up young ladies, had a very small lamp, which they prized very much. It gave little more light than a candle but they felt quite independent and well equipped so far as lights were concerned.

So candle making was another of the many jobs the housewife and her daughters did. The molds were of different types. Uncle Sam’s had one that was made of brass and hinged, half the candle was on one side and half on the other. Tallow was poured into the molds and when hardened the wicking was laid in place and a little more tallow poured on and the two halves clamped together to make the whole candle.

When Adah was a little girl they still used candles in all the rooms in the house except the dining room where they had a wonderful hanging lamp, which burned coal oil. This had been given to Uncle Sam and Aunt Lizzie as a wedding gift.

There was another type of candle mold, many of which are now cherished family heirlooms. These were made of tin, a sort of frame top and bottom, with hollow tubes so arranged that the base of the candle was at the top and a small hole at the tip on the bottom. A sort of loosely twisted cotton cord was used for the wicks. A length of candle wicking the threaded through this hole at the top end of the tube and a knot on the outside helped keep the melted fat from leaking out and also allowed the wick to be pulled taut and held in place by fastening it to a stick at the base end. Melted tallow, beef fat, was then poured into the molds and allowed to harden. If they were fortunate enough to have some beeswax it was mixed with the melted tallow. The made the candles more firm and whey burned nicer and much longer.

Jake (my father) told me he remembered many evenings when the after supper work was over and the family gathered around the table for evening sewing, knitting, mending, and studying of the lessons. His father nipped out all the candles but one, saying it was extravagant and wasteful to burn more than one.

The family wasn’t small…how could they all see with this one candle? Nowadays when electricity goes off and we must resort to candle light, we just go to bed declaring we can’t see by so faint a light.