In the 17th century, before the widespread use of electricity, candles were the main source of light in homes at night. Candles were expensive, so frugal homeowners got creative with "hacking" candle wiring setups to maximize their light while minimizing the number of candles needed. This allowed them to get "free" lighting by reducing candle costs.

The High Cost of Candles in the 17th Century

Candles were a daily household expense in the 17th century. Beeswax and tallow candles were costly, and the average family might spend 5% or more of their earnings on candlemaking supplies.

The main factors that contributed to the high price of candles in those days were:

As an example, a pound of wax could make 6-8 candles. With wax prices around 1-2 shillings per pound, even a few candles could be costly for poor families.

How Early Homeowners "Hacked" Candle Wiring Setups

To provide household lighting at more affordable costs, 17th century homeowners came up with ingenious ways to stretch their candle usage. Some key techniques included:

Candle Cones and Reflectors

Placing cones, reflectors, or shields around a candle concentrated more light from the candle flame into a focused beam. This made a single candle seem brighter than normal.

How 17th Century Homeowners Hacked Candle Wiring for “Free” Lighting

A candle with a metal cone reflector to concentrate the light

Strategic Placement Near Walls/Corners

Putting a candle in a corner or near walls allowed the light to bounce and spread farther in a room. This amplified the coverage of a single candle.

"Candle Wheels"

These contraptions used a system of pulleys and gears to rotate multiple candles around a central shaft. Rotating a few candles gave the illusion of many more lights.

Candle wheel

An antique mechanical rotating candle holder

Reflective Backdrops

Hanging reflective materials like tin foil or mirrors behind candles increased brightness by redirecting more light forwards.

Outcomes of Early Candle Hacking

The impact of these ingenious candle hacks included:

Although crude compared to modern lighting, these candle wire "hacks" helped 17th century families access cheaper home lighting to read, work, and socialize after sunset. The human capacity for creativity turned the limitations of a bygone era into more livable daily conditions.


The quest for affordable lighting drove early homeowners to creatively "hack" candle wiring setups that maximized light at the lowest cost. Although lighting today is much simpler, we can still admire the resourcefulness and invention required for 17th century families to brighten their homes in an era of darkness.