On several occasions Wedgwood supplied experimental apparatus (pyrometers, retorts, crucibles, and tubing) to various scientists (again including Priestley and Lavoisier) and corresponded with them on experimental procedures. In 1783 Wedgwood was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, but his most significant membership was in the Lunar Society of Birmingham, where he was associated with the foremost British chemists of the period.
Wedgwood issued this jasperware medallion in 1787. It has an applied relief of a kneeling slave and the inscription 'Am I not a man and a brother?' and was modelled after the seal for the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade founded in that year by Thomas Clarkson. Wedgwood sent medallions to Benjamin Franklin in Pennsylvania in February 1788, and they were an immediate success.
However, Mr Wedgwood gained a reputation as a tough taskmaster, who had no compunction about venting his spleen if production standards at a workshop were not up to scratch. If he saw a vessel that did not meet his exacting standards, Mr Wedgwood would smash it with his stick and shout: "This will not do for Josiah Wedgwood!"
The third major innovation for which Wedgwood is remembered was Jasper Ware, which has been described as the most important invention in the history of ceramics since the discovery of porcelain. It took Wedgwood years of experimentation to perfect his design for this unglazed stoneware with the uncanny ability to be both durable and delicate, and to take colours so evenly throughout its surface. Jasper can be almost any colour, although the most famous examples are are pale or dark blue and white.
In 1768 Wedgwood developed a fine black porcelain called Black Basalt. With this fine-grained stoneware he was able to produce copies of the newly excavated Etruscan pottery from Italy. The new innovation proved another huge commercial success. The surface was lustrous and smooth, with a purple-black sheen. Wedgwood's factory could scarcely keep up with the demand for candlesticks, medallions, tableware, and vases in the material.
The first major innovation Wedgwood introduced to the pottery field was the development of Queen's Ware, a cream-coloured, lead-glazed earthenware. This was durable china formed with a mixture of flint and white clay. In 1765 Wedgwood provided a tea service in this new material for Queen Charlotte, wife of George III. She was so pleased with it that she gave Wedgwood permission to call it Queen's Ware, and to style himself, "Potter to Her Majesty". Queen's Ware became an enormous success spread the name of Wedgwood across all of Europe.
In the nineteenth century, important progress was made at the Wedgwood factory in the use of new machinery, the introduction of the first coloured earthenware bodies and, most importantly, the manufacture of bone china. Wedgwood bone china tableware was to grace the tables of many illustrious homes throughout the world, including the dinner service which President Theodore Roosevelt ordered for the White House.
In an age of material progress and commercial expansion, Wedgwood's success also underscores the significant role commodities played in communicating social status. According to a number of historians, the market for commodities becomes "elastic" when traditional class distinctions are blurred by new wealth amassed through trade, industry, and manufacturing, and by the mingling of social classes that constitutes part of the urban experience. Within this context of social ambiguity, the desire for manufactured products takes on new and complex levels of meaning.
In 1754 Wedgwood entered into a partnership with Thomas Whieldon, a highly successful local manufacturer who encouraged him to experiment and introduce improvements in manufacture. His reputation must already have been considerable, for the terms of agreement were very generous--any discoveries made by Wedgwood were to be used for the benefit of both partners, but the actual secrets of manufacture were to remain Josiah's exclusive property.
Josiah Wedgwood was born into a family of potters on 12 July 1730, at Burslem, Staffordshire. His father's death in 1739 led him to an early start working as a 'thrower' in the pottery of his eldest brother, Thomas, to whom he was later apprenticed. An attack of smallpox seriously weakened Josiah, and in 1768 he had to have his right leg amputated. This meant he was forced to abandon throwing, but he subsequently gained a wider insight into the potter's craft - for example the work of the 'modeller' - and this encouraged his love of experimentation.
In eighteenth-century Britain the initiatives of a new breed of craftsmen-merchant led to a number of successful enterprises in the decorative arts that both competed with continental luxury production and expanded the trade in such goods to include an upwardly mobile middle class... One of the most ingenious entrepreneurs of this period was Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795), who came from a family of potters in Staffordshire, an area known throughout Britain at the time for the production and sale of earthenware. As a trained craftsman, Wedgwood's early contribution was primarily technical.