It seems sadly ironic that the day after the area’s worst storm in years and right in the middle of a terrible heat wave, some 7,500-candle saleswomen have their convention in downtown St. Louis. Across the nation PartyLite Gifts has some 39,000 independent salespeople who sell candles at Tupperware-like parties, usually in people’s homes. With over 490,000 homes in the St. Louis area without power after 80 mile an hour winds ripped through the area, it seems that all the candle salespeople had to do was to go door-to-door to make a fortune. The only problem was that in the ensuing 102-degree heat, the candles probably would have melted. Good thing for them that the air-conditioning was still working at the convention center downtown.
The sales force at PartyLites is mostly female, attracted by the part-time stay-at-home hours and incentives like a trip to far away places. A lot of the women choose to sell candles at home because it gives them more time to spend with their children, some of them even giving up more lucrative jobs in the business and academic fields.
There is really no written record of when the first candles were used, but it probably goes back to the Stone Age. Clay candleholders have been found in Egypt that date back to the fourth century B.C. The Egyptian candles didn’t have a wick however; instead they used a reed core that was soaked in tallow as sort of a torch. The Romans were the ones credited with developing the wick candle, again using tallow as a fuel. Early Chinese candles were made from insect wax and were molded in paper tubes. Early American Indians burned oily fish. (I guess that made the teepee smell nice.) Settlers in the New England colonies boiled the waxy coating off of Bayberries to make candles. After that, tallow became the candle fuel of choice, though the smell of rancid fat wasn’t all that great either. The growth of the whaling industry prompted the use of whale blubber as a fuel, a thing that the Eskimos had known for a long time. The discovery of paraffin in the 1800’s pretty much made all of the fat-based candles obsolete, but Bayberry and Beeswax are still used in the more expensive candles.
The convention runs through the weekend. The prices for the candles range from a few dollars to upwards of thirty. If you know any PartyLite saleswomen in your neighborhood, you might want to lay in an extra supply for the next storm, the way the weather has been around the country lately. You might also try packing them in ice so they don’t melt on the way home.