Lighting in the 1700s

In the 1700s, two main types of candles lit up the night: tallow (refined animal fat) and beeswax. Tallow candles were cheaper but they burned quickly, unevenly, and gave off a horrible stink. Beeswax candles cost three times as much, but they burned slowly and required less maintenance as they burned. 

Both were the result of labor-intensive manufacturing: moving from right to left in the image, the wick is pulled through melted wax, cut and dipped repeatedly, then finished to ensure an even lustre and shape. 

The ideal candle was bright white—almost blue—and translucent. The best came from the countryside, where craftsmen could "bleach" beeswax candles in the abundant sunshine of open spaces.

Before the advent of permanent street lamps, torch-wielding youngsters known as "link boys" were paid to light the way for nighttime pedestrians who lacked personal servants. 

For years, link boys provided an important public service with their equipment of crude, grease-soaked torches. However, their livelihood became increasingly precarious as sophisticated public lighting schemes and policing rendered link boys obsolete.

In the 1660s, Paris and Lille were the first European cities to install streetlights: candles in lamps hung from the side of homes or from ropes above streets. These helped night-time revelers make their way home safely. But authorities forced homeowners to maintain the lamps, which was expensive and a lot of work, causing some grumbling.

Street lights generally allowed for safer travel through nighttime city streets, but not everyone liked these "progressive" innovations. Streets were often illuminated by royal decree, so they were vivid symbols of the monarch's authority. And light-filled streets permitted more effective policing, taking the fun out of some nighttime revels. So lamp-smashing became a popular form of protest throughout Europe: In 1706, a rebellious group of students in Vienna destroyed more than 300 lamps outside the emperor's palace to thwart his power and take back the night. One the other hand, doctors and midwives were thankful for safe, well-lit streets and attentive watchmen.

Cities throughouth Europe followed France's lead in lighting their streets: Amsterdam in 1669, Hamburg in 1673, and London in 1684. By 1700, most cities across Europe had installed streetlights. The trend of staying up later and later spread like wildfire.

Lighting was a luxury during the 1700s. In fact, the entry charge for cafes and pubs was more expensive at night in order to cover the cost of lighting. The elites shown on the left enjoy a brightly lit space, while the commoners on the right play billiards in a dim setting.

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