Josiah Wedgwood was a fourth-generation potter who turned ceramics from a minor artisan craft into a thriving industry. Wedgwood’s ancestors were potters, therefore it was only natural for him to follow in their footsteps. He displayed his brilliance from a young age. As a result, despite having his right knee amputated due to smallpox, he did not let his sickness get in the way of his passion for pottery. Wedgwood committed his energy to the creation of high-quality inventive designed ceramics because he was unable to work on the foot pedestal of a potter’s wheel. Instead of a creative approach, he chose a scientific approach to the art and developed two groundbreaking ceramic materials, basalt and jasperware, as a result of his extensive research. He made a wide spectrum of pottery during his life, from red stoneware to unglazed black stoneware, basalt wares to jasperwares, and so on. Wedgwood was a famous slavery abolitionist who created the anti-slavery medallion, ‘Am I Not A Man And a Brother?’ He also introduced current marketing concepts and methods to the world, such as free delivery, buy one get one free, and money refund guarantees, among others.
Childhood and Adolescence
Josiah Wedgwood was born on July 12, 1730, in Burslem, Staffordshire, to Thomas and Mary Wedgwood. He was the eldest of ten siblings.
Wedgwood was born into a family of potters who had been doing so since the 17th century. As a result, Wedgwood was only natural in following suit.
Following his father’s death in 1739, he went into the family’s pottery business. Thomas Wedgwood IV, his elder brother, was his mentor. He quickly developed into a talented potter.
Since he was a child, Josiah Wedgwood’s health had been a source of anxiety. He was infected with smallpox when he was a child. His right leg was amputated as a result of the condition.
He couldn’t use the foot pedal of a potter’s wheel because of his weaker knee. As a result, he focused his efforts on pottery design. He became engrossed in the potter’s art.
Career of Josiah Wedgwood
Wedgwood started his career as an apprentice to Thomas Whieldon, a well-known English potter at the period. In 1754, his competence and talent at pottery propelled him from Whieldon’s employee to the latter’s business partner.
Wedgwood’s career soared as Whieldon’s business partner. He excelled at the pottery techniques of the time and quickly began experimenting with a variety of other techniques.
Wedgwood ended his partnership with Whieldon in 1759 and established his own firm in Burslem. At first, he set up shop at his cousin’s Ivy House Factory. Wedgwood set out to revolutionize the dinnerware industry by replacing clunky products with durable and simple alternatives.
His business took off like a rocket as the cream-colored earthenware rose to prominence. In 1762, Queen Charlotte was so taken with his collection that she appointed him as the royal supplier. Wedgwood’s collection quickly became known as ‘Queen’s Wares,’ and was in high demand after receiving the Queen’s patronage.
Due to its highly durable and utilitarian nature, Wedgwood’s pottery collection became a standard domestic pottery and had a worldwide market. Because of the high demand for his items, he expanded his business from the British Isles to the Continent. Wedgwood moved his operation to the adjoining Brick House factory to satisfy demand.
In 1768, he formed a business partnership with his merchant buddy Thomas Bentley to make beautiful things. The next year, he opened Etruria Works, a new facility near Stroke-on-Trent. In Etruria, he even created a village for his workers so they could live in comfort.
At Etruria Works, he primarily made ornamental pottery at first. These were mostly made of unglazed stoneware in a variety of colors and shapes that were ornamented in a Neoclassical manner.
He experimented with the duplicate of the product and achieved his first commercial hit in ‘Black Basalt,’ which was inspired by the black porcelain that was being excavated in the Etruria province of Italy. To replicate Greek red-figure vessels, black basalt was sometimes complemented by red encaustic painting.
In 1773, he experimented with barium sulphate and created jasper from it. Jasperware, a new ceramic material, quickly dominated the market and was emulated by the well-known and renowned porcelain companies in Sevres and Meissen. During this time, king appointed sculptor John Flaxman to Etruria and had his wax portraits and relief images converted into jasperware by him.
He moved the production of useful items to the Etruria factory between 1771 and 1773. For the massive service, Empress Catherine the Great of Russia purchased 952 pieces of Wegdwood creamware in 1774.
Wedgwood is credited with creating the pyrometer, a device for monitoring high temperatures in kilns. The device was extremely useful since it allowed for the accurate measurement of oven temperature. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society as a result of this.
Wedgwood’s interests were not limited to art; he was also interested in improving manufacturing efficiency and the transportation infrastructure. He was a strong supporter of the Trent and Mersey Canal, which he believed would help improve the transportation of raw materials and completed goods between the rivers Trent and Mersey. He became friends with Erasmus Darwin while supporting the cause.
Wedgwood sought help from his friend Darwin after the death of his business partner Thomas Bentley in 1780. The intimate relationship between Darwin and Wedgwood eventually led to family ties. Darwin persuaded Wedgwood to invest in steam engines, which resulted in the first steam engine being installed in a factory in 1782.
He devoted most of the latter part of his life to creating a copy of the Portland Vase. Wedgwood ultimately succeeded in constructing a facsimile of the first century BC blue and white glass vase after three years of hard labour in 1789.
Wedgwood was the first to introduce the globe to the notions of direct mail, money back guarantee, self-service, free delivery, traveling salesman, buy one get one free, and illustrated catalogues, all of which are still used today.
Apart from his art, Wedgwood was a staunch anti-slavery campaigner. He zealously supported the abolitionist cause from 1787 until his death. He created the anti-slavery black medallion ‘Am I Not A Man And A Brother?’ that gained widespread recognition. The Sydney Cove medallion, which celebrated the landing of the first fleet in Botany Bay, was also manufactured by Wedgwood.
Major Projects of Josiah Wedgwood
Wedgwood first rose to prominence with his cream-colored pottery line, which drew the attention of Queen Charlotte at the time. She engaged him as the royal supplier because of his efficiency in transforming awkward crockery into durable and usable pieces. Because of the queen’s sponsorship, his collection was dubbed ‘Queen’s goods.’
The discovery of basalt and jasperware was Wedgwood’s most successful innovation. Jasperware was a durable unglazed ware, while basalt was a hard, stone-like substance.
He devised the pyrometer, a device for measuring the extraordinarily high temperatures observed in kilns during pottery burning.
Personal History and Legacy
In January 1764, Wedgwood married Sarah Wedgwood, his third cousin. The couple have eight children together.
Wedgwood died on January 3, 1795, from carcinoma of the jaw. He was buried in the parish church of Stroke-on-Trent three days later.
Wedgwood’s name was given to a locomotive following his death. The Churnet Valley Railway carried it.
A plaque in his blue pottery style was erected at the location of his London stores.
Estimated Net Worth
Josiah is one of the wealthiest activists and one of the most well-known activists. Josiah Wedgwood’s net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.