May 1, 1759: Josiah Wedgewood and Sons create a new company. Josiah was already an established potter and worked with Thomas Whieldon until he was able to open his own shop. Relatives leased him Ivy House in Burslem and his marriage to Sarah, a distant cousin, brought in a large dowry and made the venture possible. Josiah had been born in Burslem, Stroke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England on July 12, 1730 as the eleventh and last child in his family. By the age of nine, he was already an accomplished potter. He survived smallpox as a child but it left him with a permanently weakened knee which in turn made him unable to work the foot pedal of a potter’s wheel. He instead, concentrated on designing pottery prior to crafting it.
In his early twenties and while working with Whieldon, he began experimenting with different techniques for making his product. This experimentation was taking place at the same time that Manchester was seeing an industrialization boom. Combining the two factors, his company became both industrialized and known for their fine products. In 1765, Wedgewood created a new earthenware form and the British Queen consort Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was so impressed she permitted it to be called “Queen’s Ware”. She was not the only person impressed with the product and it sold well throughout Europe. The following year, Wedgewood was able to purchase Etruria, a large estate, and use it both as his home and factory site.
Further experimentation led to a way to accurately measure kiln temperature which permitted him to create new types of pottery: Black Basalt and Jasper Ware. His jasperware color was Portland Blue, still a distinctive Wedgewood feature. In order to create the color, he experimented with more than 3,000 samples. He created pyrometic beads and in recognition of his advance in the field, he was elected a member of the Royal Society in 1783. Wedgewood also produced basaltware, queensware, caneware, and others. His decorative designs were based on ancient works: Roman, Greek, or Egyptian. As archeology brought more treasures from the past, he was able to create replicas for the populace to display.
The company stayed in the family (Josiah had eight children) and was still under their control until mid-twentieth century when Josiah Wedgewood V finally left the management to Arthur Bryan, the first non-family member to run the company. In 1986, Waterford Glass Group plc purchased Wedgewood plc. They were then called Waterford Wedgewood and did well until the global economic crisis of 2008. KPS Capital Partners purchased them in March 2009 with their parent company as WWRD Group Holdings Ltd. Today, their headquarters are in Stoke-on-Trent with Pierre de Villeméjane as CEO. They have 3,100 employees.
I don’t like the idea of things being off-limits to kids – like a fancy sitting room where they can’t touch anything. I own vintage pottery cups, and I let my girls hold them. It teaches them to treat objects with respect. – Debi Mazar
I do pottery. I love it. It’s very relaxing; it takes me to another planet. – Eva Herzigova
In Old Europe and Ancient Crete, women were respected for their roles in the discovery of agriculture and for inventing the arts of weaving and pottery making. – Carol P. Christ
For the longest time I was afraid I’d have to keep on working at the factories. There was a steel mill and a pottery; if you didn’t go to college, you went to work in those places. – Daniel Johnston
Also on this day: Spam Begins – In 1978 DEC sends out the first spam e-mail.
Figaro – In 1786, Mozart’s opera, The Marriage of Figaro premiered.
Plant Taxonomy – In 1753, Species Plantarum was published.
Mother’s Day Founder – In 1864, Anna Marie Jarvis was born.
Bavarian Illuminati – In 1776, the Bavarian Illuminati was formed.
* “Jasperware” by Victoria and Albert Museum – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons. Original source: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O148583/vase/. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons