Open main menu

National Geographic Magazine/Volume 31/Number 6/The Conversion of Old Newspapers and Candle Ends Into Fuel

The Conversion of Old Newspapers and Candle Ends Into FuelEdit

Photograph by Charles Martin and Ethel M. Bagg


Photograph by Charles Martin and Ethel M. Bagg


Photograph by Charles Martin and Ethel M. Bagg


Three of these little rolls of paper, no larger than a spool of silk, saturated with hot paraffin and allowed to cool, will burn without smoke, which in the presence of the enemy is dangerous, and will boil a pint of soup in about ten minutes and keep lighted for twenty minutes or half an hour. By supporting the can of soup on pieces of rock and protecting the flames from the wind an ideal individual camp meal can be made.

In Italy and France women and children are rolling old newspapers into tight rolls, pasting down the edges with glue or paste, and boiling them in paraffin to make ration heaters (scalda-rancio) out of them for the use of the soldiers in the trenches in the high Alps, where coal cannot be sent. They are making them by the million. The Italian National Society furnishes 1½ million a day to the government, and the old newspapers are being used up for this purpose so fast that they are becoming scarce, and paraffin has become very expensive.

In America there are still millions of candle ends and thousands of tons of newspapers scattered over the country, and it would seem to be well worth while for the thousands of willing hands in the homes to convert them into these most useful ration heaters for the boys at the front, or for their use next winter in the training camps, or even for use at home, where they can take the place of the more expensive solid alcohol or replace kindlings in the kitchen stove.

It is the easiest thing imaginable to make ration heaters, or scalda-rancio, as they are called in Italy, if one follows the directions of the National Italian Society.

Spread out four newspapers, eight sheets in all, and begin rolling at the long edge. Roll as tightly as possible until the papers are half rolled, then fold back the first three sheets toward the rolled part and continue to wrap around the roll almost to the first fold, then fold back another three sheets and continue to wrap around the roll again up to the last margin of the paper. On this margin, consisting of two sheets, spread a little glue or paste and continue the rolling, so as to make a compact roll of paper almost like a torch. If six of the sheets are not turned under, there will be too many edges to glue.

While the newspapers may be cut along the line of the columns before rolling and the individual columns rolled separately, as is done in the making of the trench candles in France, it is easier to roll the whole newspaper into a long roll and then cut it into short lengths. A sharp carving knife, a pair of pruning shears, or an old-fashioned hay-cutter will cut the rolls easily. These little rolls must then be boiled for four minutes in enough paraffin to cover them and then taken out and cooled, when they are ready to be put in bags and sent to the front. If there are more newspapers than candle ends, block paraffin can be bought for a few cents at any grocery or drug store.

Little children and grown-ups in Italy and France are rolling, gluing, and paraffining these ration heaters by the million, and their fathers and husbands in the High Alps and other places where wood and coal cannot be sent are cooking their rations over them.

Source: — (June 1917), “The Conversion of Old Newspapers and Candle Ends Into Fuel”, The National Geographic Magazine 31(6): 568–570.