Wedgwood Founds a Ceramics Firm Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Wedgwood’s ceramics company developed revolutionary new products and business techniques in response to consumer needs and the new industrial economy, producing affordable, high-quality, functional ware, as well as beautiful ornamental wares in new, refined materials. Also, he instituted new labor and management practices that increased productivity and profit.

Summary of Event

On July 12, 1730, Josiah Wedgwood was born into a family of potters, a tradition dating to the 1600’s. After his father’s death in 1739, the nine-year-old Wedgwood worked at the potter’s wheel in the family business. However, at age eleven, a severe case of smallpox caused permanent damage to his right knee. No longer able to operate the potter’s wheel, Wedgwood focused on researching and experimenting with glazes, colors, and pottery design. This early change of direction laid the foundation for his later success and innovations. [kw]Wedgwood Founds a Ceramics Firm (1759) [kw]Firm, Wedgwood Founds a Ceramics (1759) [kw]Ceramics Firm, Wedgwood Founds a (1759) [kw]Founds a Ceramics Firm, Wedgwood (1759) Ceramics Mass production;ceramics Industrial Revolution;England [g]England;1759: Wedgwood Founds a Ceramics Firm[1550] [c]Business and labor;1759: Wedgwood Founds a Ceramics Firm[1550] [c]Economics;1759: Wedgwood Founds a Ceramics Firm[1550] [c]Science and technology;1759: Wedgwood Founds a Ceramics Firm[1550] [c]Trade and commerce;1759: Wedgwood Founds a Ceramics Firm[1550] Wedgwood, Josiah Bentley, Thomas Flaxman, John Darwin, Erasmus

In 1744, Wedgwood became an apprentice under his older brother Thomas, but in 1749, Thomas rejected his brother’s request for a partnership in the family business. Josiah then formed a brief partnership with another area potter, John Harrison. In 1754, Wedgwood entered a partnership with Thomas Whieldon, one of the most creative potters of the time. During the next five years, Wedgwood mastered pottery techniques, started a notebook about his experiments with glazing techniques and clay formulas, and invented a new green glaze. In 1759, he left the partnership and set up his own ceramics business at Burslem’s Ivy House Works, Ivy House Works (ceramics factory) which would become the first true ceramics factory. Factories

Wedgwood’s experimentation led to superior, longer-lasting pottery for everyday use. His factory produced a beautiful, Aesthetics;and manufacturing[manufacturing] highly durable cream-colored earthenware, which Wedgwood patented in 1763. For the first time, beautifully decorated, high-quality, and inexpensive ceramic tableware was available to those who previously could afford only pewter or wooden ware. Even the British nobility purchased Wedgwood pottery. The creamware line was so popular with Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III, that she permitted Wedgwood to call it Queen’s Ware. Queen’s Ware[Queens Ware] Wedgwood used this royal approval to promote the line, which became both the standard domestic ware and a popular export.

Wedgwood also developed mass-marketing techniques for the new consumer economy. The company had expensive showrooms and exhibitions, as well as a huge sales force. International markets included North America, France, and Russia. Wedgwood saw the value of canals Canals for the transportation of products, so in 1766 he supported the construction of the Trent & Mersey Canal, which was completed in 1777.

In 1768, Wedgwood entered a partnership with Thomas Bentley, a merchant. They had met in Liverpool in 1762 and became close friends. Bentley would be the company’s sales manager, working from the London office. This remarkable alliance focused on the manufacture of unglazed decorative or ornamental stonewares mostly in the popular, neoclassical style. (Their partnership lasted until Bentley’s death in 1780.) To produce this ornamental pottery, Wedgwood built a second factory, Etruria Works. Etruria Works (ceramics factory) Wedgwood admired the black Etruscan pottery excavated at Etruria, Italy, and duplicated it with his creation of black basalt or Egyptian ware, an unglazed, fine-grained black stoneware, which was painted or decorated. This stoneware was better than any previously produced. Black basalt products included imitation Greek red vases, life-size busts of historical figures, and candlesticks.

For the Etruria factory, Wedgwood hired capable artists, engineers, and craftspeople. He also developed innovative production techniques, Labor;and productivity[productivity] including a “division of labor,” which greatly increased productivity. He divided the various processes of pottery making (mixing, shaping, firing, glazing, and so forth) and assigned each component to an individual, who would specialize in that particular task. Concurrently, Wedgwood encouraged employee loyalty by providing long-term employment, an employee residential village, and improved living conditions.

His revolutionary ideas were shared by his friend, Erasmus Darwin, a physician and scientist who founded the Lunar Society, a radical social club for some of the most gifted inventors, scientists, intellectuals, and industrialists of the time. Wedgwood was a core member of this group, which met monthly and advocated the use of science to improve, among other things, manufacturing, transportation, and education. They supported capitalism, private property, and economic competition but were opposed to slavery and despotism.

By 1773, Wedgwood had transferred the production of functional ware from Burslem to Etruria. The creamware continued to be popular, and in 1774 Empress Catherine the Great of Russia ordered 952 pieces of Wedgwood’s Queen’s Ware. In 1775, Wedgwood experimented with a high-temperature firing of a paste containing barium sulfate that resulted in the creation of jasperware, a durable white, granularly textured, unglazed stoneware most commonly colored blue by metal oxides and ornamented with white bas-relief work in Greek classical designs or cameo portraits. Other background colors used were yellow, pink, olive, black, and sage green. The designer for the jasperware reliefs was the famous artist and sculptor John Flaxman, who became a designer at Etruria Works in 1775 and later directed Wedgwood’s studio in Rome.

After Bentley’s death in 1780, Darwin helped Wedgwood manage the company. In 1782 at Etruria, they installed the first steam-powered engine in a factory. In 1783, Wedgwood’s invention of a pyrometer for measuring high temperatures, as in ovens for pottery firings, earned him election as a fellow of the Royal Society of London. In 1789, after three years of intense work, Wedgwood was able to make a jasper copy of the famous Portland vase, a first century glass vase that had been excavated near Rome during the time of Pope Urban VIII (1568-1644). After Margaret Bentinck, second duchess of Portland, purchased the vase in 1783, Wedgwood was determined to duplicate it. The Portland vase was made of violet-blue glass overlaid with opaque white glass containing a mythological scene in cameo relief.

On January 3, 1795, Wedgwood died, leaving a huge fortune and a flourishing business to his descendants. In 1796, Wedgwood’s daughter Susannah married Erasmus’s son Robert, and they were the parents of the famous English naturalist Charles Darwin, who married Emma, Wedgwood’s granddaughter.

Significance

Josiah Wedgwood had laid the foundation for a lasting business and enduring brand name. In response to consumer needs and social changes, Wedgwood used scientific experimentation to develop superior new ceramic ware, such as creamware, black basalt, and jasperware. Wedgwood designs in ornamental ware reflected the eighteenth century classical style of the Greek Revival. His affordable yet superior pottery appealed to the growing European bourgeois and working classes, Working class;consumerism both a part of the Industrial Revolution Industrial Revolution;England beginning in England in the eighteenth century.

Through revolutionary labor, management, and marketing techniques, he had created a productive and profitable company. He industrialized the making of ceramics, and his pottery works was the first modern ceramics factory, complete with specialized labor, machinery, and new inventions. His pottery was so popular that competitors had to imitate Wedgwood wares in order to survive.

The Wedgwood production facilities relocated to a newly constructed factory at Barlaston in 1940. In 1953 the company opened “Wedgwood Rooms,” with bridal registries for fine china gifts, at department stores in the United States. The London Stock Exchange began offering Wedgwood shares in 1966. By the twenty-first century, Wedgwood had also established a worldwide presence with its own Web site.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dolan, Brian. Wedgwood: The First Tycoon. New York: Viking, 2004. At 396 pages, this well-researched, comprehensive biography focuses on Wedgwood as a revolutionary entrepreneur and provides insights into eighteenth century British society and politics. Illustrations, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Honey, W. B. English Pottery and Porcelain. London: A. and C. Black, 1933. This concise history of British ceramic art contains a chapter on Wedgwood’s life and career. The author defends Wedgwood as a great businessman but argues he also seemed more interested in seeking the acceptance of the wealthy than in perfecting his craft. Also discusses Wedgwood in relation to his contemporaries and his impact upon later British potters.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Koehn, Nancy. Brand New: How Entrepreneurs Earned Consumers’ Trust from Wedgwood to Dell. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2001. Chapter 2 discusses Wedgwood’s life and career, especially his entrepreneurial skills. There are informative sections on his partnership with Thomas Bentley, marketing, organizing the workforce, product management, finance, and capitalism. Bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Macht, Carol. Classical Wedgwood Designs. New York: Gramercy, 1957. This book examines the sources and the use of the Wedgwood designs, and jasperware’s connection to the eighteenth century classical revival. Illustrations and bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Meteyard, Eliza. The Life of Josiah Wedgwood: From His Private Correspondences and Family Papers. 2 vols. London: Hurst and Blackett, 1865. An excellent two-volume biography that begins with England’s Celtic pottery and period and continues through the Roman period and the Middle Ages. Makes for absorbing, if dated, reading.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wedgwood, Barbara, and Hensleigh Wedgwood. The Wedgwood Circle, 1730-1897: Four Generations of a Family and Their Friends. Westfield, N.J.: Eastview Editions, 1980. A well-written account of four generations of the Wedgwood family, beginning with Josiah. A family history that is not as biased as readers might expect.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wedgwood, Josiah. The Selected Letters of Josiah Wedgwood. Edited by Ann Finer and George Savage. London: Cory, Adams, and Mackay, 1965. A collection of letters illustrating Wedgwood’s personality, accomplishments, influences, and motivations. The introduction contains a biographical sketch. In addition, each section of the book is prefaced with a short explanation of the contents of letters to follow, with relevant biographical data about Wedgwood. An excellent source.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Williams, Peter. Wedgwood: A Collector’s Guide. Radnor, Pa.: Wallace-Homestead, 1992. A comprehensive history of Wedgwood pottery, with detailed descriptions of the designs and processes. Color photographs and appendices.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Young, Hilary. The Genius of Wedgwood. London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 1995. The Victoria & Albert Museum held a special exhibition in 1995 to observe the bicentenary of Wedgwood’s death. This publication provides detailed descriptions of more than five hundred exhibition pieces produced during Wedgwood’s lifetime. Illustrations, with many color plates. Bibliography and index.

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