Josiah Wedgwood (1730–95)

Joseph Wedgwood was, in his lifetime, the best-known pottery manufacturer in Europe. He made many notable contributions to the means of producing high-quality ceramic wares, and, in a broader sense, to the intellectual background to the Industrial Revolution in Britain.

He was born in Burslem, North Staffordshire, in a region where pottery manufacture was already well-established, although the units of production were small, and marketing was unsophisticated. His father, Thomas Wedgwod (1687-1739) was a potter, as was his brother, also Thomas, with whom he worked between 1744 and 1752. Subsequently he worked for Thomas Whielden, probably the most able potter of his generation, but left in 1759 to rent the Ivy House pottery, which he operated on his own account.

In 1766 he purchased the 140 ha Ridgehouse estate, where he built a pottery that he called Etruria, after the Etruscan models on which some of his designs were based. It was probably the largest and was certainly the most logically-designed pottery works of the period, in which workers undertook only limited tasks in the production of complex ceramic wares.

Wedgwood showed imagination and skill in marketing. He arranged displays of his ware in London under the patronage of Queen Charlotte, and exported to America and the Caribbean. In 1770 he fulfilled the first of many orders for the Empress Catherine of Europe, and in 1771-2 sent a succession of parcels of his products to members of the royal houses of Germany. In the 1770s and 80s he published catalogues in French, Dutch and German. His awareness of the importance of design and his ability to attract and work with designers, his innovations in the organisation of production, and his flair for marketing were his contributions to the development of the ceramics industry.

He was active in the promotion of turnpike roads, and of canals, particularly prominent of the Trent & Mersey Canal that bordered Etruria.

Through the Lunar Society of Birmingham he was involved with Erasmus Darwin and James Watt, amongst others, and he was elected to the Royal Society in 1783. His business achievements were underpinned by a concern for science, particularly geology, and he was well-known for the epigram ‘Everything gives way to experiment’.