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Josiah Wedgwood


Josiah Wedgwood

Josiah Wedgwood
Born (1730-07-12)12 July 1730
Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England, GB
Died 3 January 1795(1795-01-03) (aged 64)
Etruria, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England, GB
Resting place
Stoke-on-Trent, England, UK
Occupation Potter
Etruria Hall, the family home, built 1768–1771 by Joseph Pickford. It was restored as part of the 1986 Stoke-on-Trent Garden Festival and is now part of a four-star hotel.

Josiah Wedgwood (12 July 1730 – 3 January 1795) was an English potter who founded the Wedgwood company and is credited with the industrialisation of the manufacture of pottery. A prominent abolitionist, Wedgwood is remembered for his "Am I Not a Man And a Brother?" anti-slavery medallion. He was a member of the Darwin–Wedgwood family. He was the grandfather of Charles Darwin and Emma Darwin.


  • Biography 1
    • Early life 1.1
    • Marriage and children 1.2
    • Work 1.3
  • "Am I Not a Man And a Brother?" 2
  • Sydney Cove medallion 3
  • Legacy and influence 4
  • Inventions 5
  • See also 6
  • References and sources 7
  • External links 8


Early life

Born in Burslem, Staffordshire, England, the eleventh and last child of Thomas Wedgwood and Mary Wedgwood (née Stringer; d. 1766), Josiah was raised within a family of English Dissenters. By the age of nine, he was proving himself to be a skilled potter. He survived a childhood bout of smallpox to serve as an apprentice potter under his eldest brother Thomas Wedgwood IV. Smallpox left Josiah with a permanently weakened knee, which made him unable to work the foot pedal of a potter's wheel. As a result, he concentrated from an early age on designing pottery and then making it.

In his early twenties, Wedgwood began working with the most renowned English pottery-maker of his day, Thomas Whieldon, who eventually became his business partner in 1754. He began experimenting with a wide variety of techniques, an experimentation that coincided with the burgeoning of the nearby industrial city of Manchester. Inspired, Wedgwood leased the Ivy Works in the town of Burslem. Over the course of the next decade, his experimentation (and a considerable injection of capital from his marriage to a richly-endowed distant cousin) transformed the sleepy artisan works into the first true pottery factory.

Marriage and children

Wedgwood married Sarah Wedgwood (1734–1815), his third cousin, in January 1764. They had eight children:

  • Susannah Wedgwood, mother of the English naturalist Charles Darwin
  • John Wedgwood (1766–1844)
  • Richard Wedgwood (1767–1768) (died as a child)
  • Josiah Wedgwood II (1769–1843) (father of Emma Darwin, cousin and wife of the English naturalist Charles Darwin)
  • Thomas Wedgwood (1771–1805) (no children)
  • Catherine Wedgwood (1774–1823) (no children)
  • Sarah Wedgwood (1776–1856) (no children, very active in the slavery abolition movement[1])
  • Mary Anne Wedgwood (1778–86) (died as a child)


Wedgwood was keenly interested in the scientific advances of his day and it was this interest that underpinned his adoption of its approach and methods to revolutionize the quality of his pottery. His unique glazes began to distinguish his wares from anything else on the market. He was perhaps the most famous potter of all time.

Horse Frightened by a Lion by Wedgwood and Thomas Bentley, after George Stubbs, 1780.

By 1763, he was receiving orders from the highest levels of the British nobility, including Queen Charlotte. Wedgwood convinced her to let him name the line of pottery she had purchased "Queen's Ware", and trumpeted the royal association in his paperwork and stationery. In 1773, Empress Catherine of Russia ordered the Green Frog Service from Wedgwood; it can still be seen in the Hermitage Museum.[2] An even earlier commission from Catherine was the Husk Service (1770), now on exhibit in Petergof.

As a leading industrialist, Wedgwood was a major backer of the Trent and Mersey Canal dug between the River Trent and River Mersey, during which time he became friends with Erasmus Darwin. Later that decade, his burgeoning business caused him to move from the smaller Ivy Works to the newly built Etruria Works, which would run for 180 years. The factory was so-named after the Etruria district of Italy, where black porcelain dating to Etruscan times was being excavated. Wedgwood found this porcelain inspiring, and his first major commercial success was its duplication with what he called "Black Basalt". He combined experiments in his art and in the technique of mass production with an interest in improved roads, canals, schools and living conditions. At Etruria, he even built a village for his workers.

Not long after the new works opened, continuing trouble with his smallpox-afflicted knee made necessary the amputation of his right leg. In 1780, his long-time business partner Thomas Bentley died, and Wedgwood turned to Darwin for help in running the business. As a result of the close association that grew up between the Wedgwood and Darwin families, Josiah's eldest daughter would later marry Erasmus' son. One of the children of that marriage, Charles Darwin, would also marry a Wedgwood — Emma, Josiah's granddaughter. This double-barreled inheritance of Wedgwood's money gave Charles Darwin the leisure time to formulate his theory of evolution.

In the latter part of his life, Wedgwood's obsession was to duplicate the Portland Vase, a blue and white glass vase dating to the first century BC. For three years he worked on the project, eventually producing what he considered a satisfactory copy in 1789.

Bust of Minerva, Wedgwood and Bentley, c. 1795

After passing on his company to his sons, Wedgwood died at home, probably of cancer of the jaw, in 1795. He was buried three days later in the parish church of Stoke-on-Trent.[3] Seven years later a marble memorial tablet commissioned by his sons was installed there.[4]

He belonged to the fourth generation of a family of potters whose traditional occupation continued through another five generations. Wedgwood's company is still a famous name in pottery today (as part of Waterford Wedgwood; see Waterford Crystal), and "Wedgwood China" is sometimes used as a term for his Jasperware, the coloured stoneware with applied relief decoration (usually white), still common throughout the world.

He was an active member of the Lunar Society often held at Erasmus Darwin House and is remembered on the Moonstones in Birmingham. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1783 for the development of a pyrometer.

Wedgwood is credited as the inventor of modern marketing, specifically direct mail, money-back guarantees, travelling salesmen, self-service, free delivery, buy one get one free, and illustrated catalogues.[5] Wedgwood is also noted as an early adopter/founder of managerial accounting principals in Anthony Hopwood's "Archaeology of Accounting Systems."

"Am I Not a Man And a Brother?"

Am I Not a Man and a Brother? Design of the medallion created as part of anti-slavery campaign by Wedgwood, 1787

Wedgwood was a prominent slavery abolitionist. His friendship with Thomas Clarkson – abolitionist campaigner and the first historian of the British abolition movement – aroused his interest in slavery. Wedgwood mass-produced cameos depicting the seal for the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade and had them widely distributed, which thereby became a popular and celebrated image. The Wedgwood medallion was the most famous image of a black person in all of 18th-century art.[6] The actual design of the cameo was probably done by either William Hackwood or Henry Webber who were modellers in his Stoke-on-Trent factory.[7] From 1787 until his death in 1795, Wedgwood actively participated in the abolition of slavery cause, and his Slave Medallion, which brought public attention to abolition.[8] Wedgwood reproduced the design in a cameo with the black figure against a white background and donated hundreds of these to the society for distribution. Thomas Clarkson wrote; "ladies wore them in bracelets, and others had them fitted up in an ornamental manner as pins for their hair. At length the taste for wearing them became general, and thus fashion, which usually confines itself to worthless things, was seen for once in the honorable office of promoting the cause of justice, humanity and freedom".[9]

The design on the medallion became popular and was used elsewhere: large-scale copies were painted to hang on walls[10] and it was used on clay tobacco pipes.[11]

Sydney Cove medallion

Commemorating the landing of the First Fleet in Botany Bay, the Sydney Cove medallion was made by Josiah Wedgwood after he was given a sample of clay from Sydney Cove by Sir Joseph Banks, who had received the sample from Governor Arthur Phillip. Wedgwood made it into a commemorative medallion titled "Hope encouraging Art and Labour, under the influence of Peace, to pursue the employments necessary to give security and happiness to an infant settlement".[12]

Legacy and influence

A locomotive named after Wedgwood ran on the Churnet Valley Railway.[13]

A plaque, in Wedgwood's blue pottery style, marking the site of his London showrooms between 1774 and 1795 in Wedgwood Mews, is located at 12, Greek Street, London, W1.[14]


Josiah Wedgwood also invented the pyrometer, a device to measure the extremely high temperatures that are found in kilns during the firing of pottery. For this he was elected a member of the Royal Society.[15]

See also

References and sources

  1. ^ Midgley, Clare (1992). Women Against Slavery. New York: Routledge. p. 56.  
  2. ^ Pieces from the Green Frog Service. Josiah Wedgwood (1773–1774), Hermitage Museum
  3. ^ "History & Heritage". Retrieved 18 October 2013. 
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ "They Broke It", New York Times, 9 January 2009
  6. ^ "British History – Abolition of the Slave Trade 1807". BBC. Retrieved 11 April 2009. The Wedgwood medallion was the most famous image of a black person in all of 18th-century art. 
  7. ^ "Am I Not a Man and a Brother?", 1787
  8. ^ Did you know? – Josiah WEDGWOOD was a keen advocate of the slavery abolition movement. Retrieved on 2011-01-02.
  9. ^ "Wedgwood". Retrieved 13 July 2009. Thomas Clarkson wrote; ladies wore them in bracelets, and others had them fitted up in an ornamental manner as pins for their hair. At length the taste for wearing them became general, and thus fashion, which usually confines itself to worthless things, was seen for once in the honourable office of promoting the cause of justice, humanity and freedom. 
  10. ^ Scotland and the Slave Trade: 2007 Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, The Scottish Government, 23 March 2007
  11. ^ A History of the World – Object : anti-slavery tobacco pipe. BBC. Retrieved on 2011-01-02.
  12. ^
  13. ^ A brief history of the CVR php. Retrieved on 2011-01-02.
  14. ^ "Plaque: Josiah Wedgwood". 2013. Retrieved 18 October 2013. 
  15. ^ BBC - History - Historic Figures: Josiah Wedgwood (1730 - 1795)
  • Dolan, Brian (2004). Wedgwood: The First Tycoon. Viking Adult. ISBN 0-670-03346-4.
  • McKendrick, Neil, "Wedgwood and His Friends," Horizon, May 1959, Vol. I, No. 5, pp 88–97, (American Horizon, Inc., a subsidiary of American Heritage Publishing Co. Inc.)
  • The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History. Fourth Edition, 1986.

External links

  • Wedgwood website
  • Wedgwood collection at the Lady Lever Art Gallery
  • Wedgwood Museum
  • The Great Crash by Jenny Uglow, The Guardian, 7 February 2009
  • National Museum of Australia The Sydney Cove Medallion (Flash required for close-up viewing).
  • The Story of Wedgwood
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