Potter, Innovator, Abolitionist

Josiah Wedgwood was born in England in 1730. When he was only 9 years old, he had already become a master potter. But when smallpox weakened his knee, he would no longer work the potter’s wheel. He changed his career from making pottery to designing it. Eventually, his leg was amputated.

At first, the pottery created by the Wedgwood family was of low quality and focused on the mass market. When Josiah began to work with some of the best pottery makers at the time, he began to upscale his designs. His marriage gave him the financing to lease his own pottery works.

Using his knowledge of the science of pottery making, he began to develop distinctive pottery pieces that were not available in any other pottery. He began to sell to elite customers including the Queen of England. Queen Charlotte endorsed Josiah’s pottery in what is believed to be the first endorsement deal and the beginning of influencer-based marketing.

Whenever Josiah innovated a new line of pottery, he worked to make them available to the general public by also innovating efficient production methods.

Not only did Josiah develop innovative pottery designs and practices, but he was also an innovator in marketing as well. He is credited with such marketing strategies as direct mail, money-back guarantees, free delivery, buy-one-get-one-free offers as well as catalogs showing his wares. He was also one of the early adopters of modern accounting practices.

But there was more to Josiah than pottery. He fought against slavery and designed pottery portraying the anti-slavery medallion. His portrayal of a black man in chains was the most famous image of a Black person in the 13th Century art.

In addition, he was a social entrepreneur who worked to improve roads, canals, and schools. He even built a village for his workers.

Although Josiah died in 1795 at the age of 64, the Wedgwood family continued to operate the company for another 5 generations. Wedgwood China is still thought to be at the top of the line even today.

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“Ladies wore them in bracelets, and others had them fitted up in an ornamental manner as pins for their hair. At length the taste for wearing them became general, and thus fashion, which usually confines itself to worthless things, was seen for once in the honourable office of promoting the cause of justice, humanity, and freedom”.
– Thomas Clarkson (leading abolitionist of the day speaking of Josiah’s slave medallion)

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