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.
Born the thirteenth and youngest child of Thomas Wedgwood III and Mary Wedgwood (née Stringer; d. 1766), Josiah was raised within a family of English Dissenters. 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 rather than making it.
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:
Wedgwood's work was of very high quality (when visiting his workshop, if he saw an offending vessel that failed to meet with his standards, he would smash it with his stick, exclaiming, "This will not do for Josiah Wedgwood!"). Wedgwood was also keenly interested in the scientific advances of his day and it was this interest that underpinned his adoption of its approach and methods to revolutionize the quality of his pottery. His unique glazes began to distinguish Josiah's wares from anything else on the market.
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 the early 1770s the Empress Catherine of Russia ordered the Green Frog Service from Wedgwood; it can still be seen in the Hermitage Museum. 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 eventually led to the formulation of 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 CE. 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 an active member of the Lunar Society and is remembered on the Moonstones in Birmingham. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1783.
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.
His home Etruria Hall, built 1768–1771 by Joseph Pickford, was restored as part of the 1986 Stoke-on-Trent Garden Festival is now part of a four-star hotel.