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Josiah Wedgwood (thehustle.co)
93 points by occamschainsaw 16 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments

Interesting they didn't mention that Charles Darwin was his grandson. The pottery business funded Darwin's voyage on the Beagle.

Josiah Wedgwood and Charles Darwin's paternal grandfather Erasmus Darwin were both members of the Lunar Society of Birmingham, which also included the chemist and liberal theologian Joseph Priestly, James Watt of steam-engine fame, and Watt's patron and partner Matthew Bolton, who was as much a technological entrepreneur as Wedgwood.

To add yet another connection, Watt is thought to have inspired Smith's physicalist theory of value at the university in Glasgow.

I’m from Stoke-on-Trent. The Wedgwood factory is about a 30 minute walk from where I grew up. There’s a big statue of him outside our railway station. This is the first I’m hearing that Darwin was his grandson. I’m amazed that I didn’t know, and so far no-one I’ve asked knew either. Crazy.

Ditto, I’m from Longton and it’s the first I’ve heard.

Interestingly they did not mention the wonderful work that he did for the abolitionists who wanted to get rid of the slave trade. The pottery business made the abolitionist cause fashionable.

Fascinating. I've always assumed that the expeditions were funded by patrons. That never really seemed right to be though, because Charles Darwin wasn't very sociable IIRC.

The voyage itself was funded by the British Admiralty, for the purpose of a hydrographical survey, but Darwin's presence on it was privately funded.

I don’t get it... Why it is interesting they didn’t mention it?

"Interesting that" is just a figure of speech that people use to introduce information weakly related to OP.

Haha right but it’s interesting that Charles Darwin was the grandson. It isn’t interesting that they didn’t mention it. Sorry for perpetuating meta discussion.

I'd argue that it is an interesting element to the story. To add a little hyperbole, the wealth cascaded down two generations and helped enable a lifetime of serious scientific work that fundamentally changed the world.

Fair enough. Consider me convinced.

"he's been largely forgotten by time"

Perhaps he himself is not well known, but the eponymous company he started in 1759 was the watchword for high-end ceramics for more than two centuries and is still sold to this day.

Towards the end of the 20th century, consumer tastes changed and the company faced stiff competition from cheaper imports. Wedgwood merged with another luxury goods company Waterford Crystal in 1987, to become Waterford Wedgwood. The combined companies fared no better as a unit and went into administration in 2009 though the Wedgwood brand survives after being purchased by a private equity company and now a Finnish consumer goods company.


Really I think this is just standard America-centric writing - Josiah Wedgewood isn't well-known in the US, so the writer assumes his prior ignorance to be universal. Kinda the same way that many Americans think the telephone and television were invented here.

I don’t even think that’s accurate. If you watch antiques roadshow, wedgewood pottery comes up all the time. Anybody that’s into antiques knows about them.

Interesting you picked on two Scottish inventions. Given that Bell founded AT&T, the invention of telephony being a US thing is at least debatable: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Graham_Bell . TV was a bit more British ... (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Logie_Baird)

Nice article, but I find it strange that not once was the gorilla in the room mentioned- China. Wedgwood was working in a world that had been re-shaped by Chinese export porcelain, one of the first examples of a truly global product and marketing "brand". Chinese porcelain was of extremely high quality (some of it unrivaled even today), technologically advanced, culturally complex, and cherished by the European nobility. European potters like Wedgwood were desperately trying to re-create the purity and beauty of the Chinese product. I would argue that what Wedgwood came up with was not only technologically inferior but also a strange cultural mishmash of influences with less cultural value than Chinese porcelain.

I highly recommend Joseph Needham's "Science and Civilisation in China" Volume 5, Part 12, covers Ceramic Technology: https://books.google.com/books?id=mabcHwmAD5oC

>European potters like Wedgwood were desperately trying to re-create the purity and beauty of the Chinese product.

Oh, how the pottery turntable turns.

>Chinese manufacturers like Huawei were desperately trying to re-create the purity and beauty of the American product.

I think that’s grossly unfair given the American products you refer to are also manufactured in China. So they clearly have the knowhow to produce high quality products - even if they often prefer to target the non-premium market (which probably makes better financial sense when it comes to selling hardware domestically)

Manufacturing things is a commodity, creating things is where the value is.

Historically China has been ahead of the West by centuries if not millennia! It has taken me a lot of reading about the Opium Wars and what went on before to come to this conclusion. We in the West are but cultural infants with a lot to learn. Really.

Regarding those phones you speak of, they might have been designed in Silicon Valley but 'anyone' can design a phone, making one is a lot harder. It is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration really. We would be kind of stuck at the making bit without the hard work and ingenuity of folks in China. Apple and co went there to get products made not just because of cheaper labour but because China can do such things.

The more one learns about China the more one rejects Trumpist 'they steal our IP' arguments and the more one respects Chinese history, culture and hard working attitudes. Nope, China is not perfect and not for everyone, they have a lot of problems but they also have a quite aggressive Western media that always wants to do them down with so much whataboutism, e.g. 'human rights' which is so rich considering that the US locks up so many millions of people.

I was also wondering why rich merchants in China didn't qualify as tycoons, but I'm inclined to think that this is because the author didn't feel like pursuing his line of inquiry any farther as opposed to some fundamental aspect of the Wedgewood business' corporate structure.

That reminds of how, in the next century confenctioners in West Europe were trying to recreate the turkish delight (lokum, in m native Bulgarian).


> less cultural value than Chinese porcelain

Care to elaborate?

> By the time Josiah died in 1795, he’d amassed a fortune of £600k pounds (more than US $100m today), and was the 4th richest man in all of England.

I found this to be an interesting point about how much the wealth of society has increased since those times. $100m today would not put you anywhere even remotely close to the top of that list.

Converting historical currency to modern values becomes increasingly meaningless the longer the time span, and 1795 is a sufficiently different world to today with a different basket of goods that I don't think that's a valuable comparison.

By the same formula 100k in todays' money would be $600. Is that realistic?

That formula is for old British Pounds which are not even decimal. If go back earlier than that, there's records of whole villages being bought for a pound or two.

I've just started reading Victorious Century: The United Kingdom, 1800-1906 and it mentions that the richest Dukes had incomes in the hundreds of thousands per year and, of course, huge capital assets - so that 4th place does seem rather surprising.

FWIW I can't find a reference to him being the 4th richest anywhere else but the article, so they probably just misread something in their sources.

The goods available are very different. It would be interesting to compare what that buys you in terms of land and property though.

The potteries business of Stoke-on-Trent is so thoroughly vanished that it was a few years ago promoting the sale of houses at £1 to anyone willing to fix them up and live there. Sic transit gloria mundi, I suppose.

Jacob Fugger might disagree...

Still, a very interesting read.

This article reads a bit too triumphal for my tastes. Factory towns and globalized industrialization have a dark side. Certainly this story can’t all be roses?

Do you hold tea in your mouth until it tastes bad, too? Things have good and bad sides. Be mindful of each on its own time.

I'd wager that living in a factory town beats starving to death in a countryside hovel.

Even in modern day industrial towns and gigafactories, a lot of the criticism is coming from external forces; the workers are often happy to have a job and make any money at all.

i am a potter and i approve of this article :-)

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