The invention of the incandescent bulb was bad news for candle makers.
Their product had been an indispensable part of both work and home for millennia (and had even survived the introduction of gaslight) but it was no match for Edison’s electric wonder… by the 1920’s demand had shrunk to birthdays, religious holidays and the occasional blackout.
It’s a classic example of what the economist Joseph Schumpeter called ‘creative destruction’: with every great idea comes the sudden birth of new industries and the slow, lingering death of old ones.
But Schumpeter didn’t factor in the hippies.
To the Flower Power consciousness of the 1960’s, the candle was a mystical symbol of The Age of Aquarius, a guiding light to a whole new generation: people who’d never thought of candles as lighting but as something magic, cosmic, tantric.
By the 70’s candles were romantic.
By the 80’s they were sexy.
By the 90’s they were scented and flavoured and therapeutic and pricey.
Today the candle market is worth £93m in the UK and $2.3b in the US and grows at around 10% per year; a cheap necessity of the 19th century has become an expensive luxury in the 21st, because an old industry asked itself new questions. Thanks to shifting social norms, a little innovation and a few hippies, candle makers have added a footnote to Schumpeter’s theory:
Just because you’ve gone from absolute to obsolete doesn’t mean you can’t come back again.