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11 July

365 great things about Staffordshire - Josiah Wedgwood

The great Josiah Wedgwood (12 July 1730 – 3 January 1795) was an English potter and entrepreneur from Staffordshire.

He founded the world famous Wedgwood company and is credited with the industrialisation of the manufacture of pottery.

Early Career

Born in Burslem to Mary Wedgwood and potter Thomas Wedgwood, 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 with the input of other potters. 

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.

Man of Science

Wedgwood also began to study the new science of chemistry, seeking to understand the materials science of fire, clay, and minerals and to develop better clays and glazes for potter-making.

Wedgwood leased the Ivy Works in the town of Burslem, Staffordshire. Over the course of the next decade, his experimentation transformed the sleepy artisan works into the first true pottery factory.

Supplier to High Society and Royalty

By 1763, he was receiving orders from the highest levels of the British nobility, including Queen Charlotte. 

Anything Wedgwood made for the Queen was automatically exhibited before it was delivered.  Wedgwood marketed his Queen's Ware at affordable prices, everywhere in the world British trading ships sailed. In 1764, he received his first order from abroad. 

He opened a warehouse in Mayfair, London in 1765 and soon Wedgwood's became one of the most fashionable meeting places in London. His workers had to work day and night to satisfy the demand, and the crowds of visitors showed no sign of abating.

Wedgwood went on to set up warehouses and showrooms at Bath, Liverpool and Dublin in addition to his showrooms at Etruria, Stoke-on-Trent and in London.

Master Entrepeneur

He was a master entrepeneur and great care and business planning was taken in timing the openings, and new goods were held back to increase their effect on demand.

He is credited as the inventor of modern marketing, specifically direct mail, money back guarantees, travelling salesmen, carrying pattern boxes for display, self-service, free delivery, buy one get one free, and illustrated catalogues.

Leading Industrialist

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 in Staffordshire, which would run for 180 years.

The factory was named after the Etruria district of Italy, where black porcelain 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.


He was elected to the Royal Society in 1783 for the development of a pyrometer, a device to measure the extremely high temperatures that are found in kilns during the firing of pottery.

He was an active member of the Lunar Society of Birmingham often held at Erasmus Darwin House.

Global Success

In 1773, Empress Catherine the Great ordered the (Green) Frog Service from Wedgwood, consisting of 952 pieces and over a thousand original paintings. Most of the painting was carried out in Wedgwood's decorating studio in the UK

By 1784, Wedgwood was exporting nearly 80% of his total produce.

Wedgwood Legacy

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

Wedgwood left behind an enormous legacy.  One of the wealthiest entrepreneurs of the 18th century, Wedgwood created goods to meet the demands of the consumer revolution and growth in wealth of the middle classes that helped drive the Industrial Revolution in Britain

More about Wedgwood and his legacy at World of Wedgwood


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