Wedgwood soon acquired a reputation for his cream-colored earthenware, known as queen's ware, and at the same time produced decorative objects, candlesticks, and vases of a black composition known as basalt or Egyptian stoneware. He also produced a mottled and veined ware in imitation of granite and a translucent, smooth, unglazed semiporcelain. This gave way to his best-known product, jasper ware, best known in a delicate blue with white, cameolike Greek figures embossed upon it (see Portland vase), which has been in continuous production since 1774. He invented and perfected this ware and in it gave expression to the interest of his day in the revival of classical art. He employed the best talent available for his finer pieces, many of which were designed by John Flaxman. Wedgwood's terra-cottas of various hues were made with one color in relief upon another. He produced exquisite wares for many royal and noble patrons, including a dinner service for Catherine the Great. His work is found in many museums and private collections; the Fogg Museum of Art, Cambridge, Mass., has an outstanding collection. He also published several pamphlets, and his Address to the Young Inhabitants of the Pottery appeared in 1783. For his invention of a pyrometer for measuring temperatures, Wedgwood was made a fellow of the Royal Society (1783). The extensive potteries he established, which he built into a large, worldwide commercial empire, were perpetuated by his descendants.
See W. Mankowitz, Wedgwood (1953); A. Kelly, The Story of Wedgwood (1962); E. Meteyard, The Life of Josiah Wedgwood (1865, repr. 1970); B. Dolan, Wedgwood: The First Tycoon (2004).
Josiah Wedgwood (July 12, 1730 - January 3, 1795, born Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent) was an English potter, credited with the industrialization of the manufacture of pottery. He was a member of the Darwin-Wedgwood family, most famously including his grandson, Charles Darwin.
In his early twenties, Wedgwood began working with the most renowned English pottery-maker of his day, Thomas Whieldon. There he began experimenting with a wide variety of pottery techniques, an experimentation that coincided with the burgeoning early industrial city of Manchester, which was nearby. Inspired, Wedgwood leased the Ivy Works in his home town of Burslem and set to work. Over the course of the next decade, his experimentation (and a considerable injection of capital from his marriage to a richly endowed distant cousin, Sarah Wedgwood) transformed the sleepy artisan works into the first true pottery factory.
Wedgwood married Sarah Wedgwood (a third cousin). Together, they had seven children:
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 purchased "Queen's Ware", and trumpeted the royal association in his paperwork and stationery. In 1774 the Empress Catherine of Russia ordered the Green Frog Service from Wedgwood; it can still be seen in the Hermitage Museum. An even earlier commission from Catherine who was his wife was the Husk Service (1770), now on exhibit in Peterhof. As a burgeoning 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".
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. Essentially, this double-barreled inheritance of Josiah's money permitted Charles Darwin the life of leisure that allowed him the 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. 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. Seven years later a marble memorial tablet commissioned by his sons was installed there.
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 the commonly used term for his Jasperware, the blue (or sometimes green) china with overlaid white decoration, still common throughout the world.
He was also a prominent slavery abolitionist. He 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 actual design of the cameo was probably done by either William Hackwood or Henry Webber who were modellers in his factory.
A Loco was named after Josiah Wedgwood and ran on the Churnet Valley Railway.