Wedgwood: the first tycoon
With its familiar white classical figures against a pale-blue background, Wedgwood has been one of the most recognizable brand names in the world for more than two hundred years?the epitome of quality and luxury?and the Enlightenment?s most remarkable success story.Born into a family of struggling potters, Josiah Wedgwood amassed a fortune that, at his death in 1795, was valued at the equivalent of $3.4 billion in today?s dollars and helmed an empire that stretched from England to Russia to the United States. As a member of the famous Lunar Society, whose members included James Watt, Joseph Priestley, and Erasmus Darwin, he combined rationality with bold experimentation, revolutionizing the business model of his time with a series of innovations that have continued to this day: ? Organizing skilled labor in one of the world?s earliest factories ? Encouraging employee loyalty by offering long-term contracts that included health insurance and pension plans ? Changing the very notion of shopping by utilizing showrooms and traveling salesmen The story of how phenomenal wealth affected the lives of a family and of the turbulent political climate that threatened their very livelihood, this vivid and compelling portrait of a pioneer of commercial culture is sure to be a hit with loyal collectors and the business market alike.
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LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
The life and accomplishments of Josiah Wedgwood, one of the great industrialists and innovators of the eighteenth century. I found this book very interesting, as Dolan covers not only the technical and commercial aspects of Wedgwood's achievements, but also his intellectual development, and the changes in the world he lived in. He also places due, but not undue, emphasis on the implications of Wedgwood's status as a religious Dissenter (that is, non-Anglican Christian) in the England of the mid-eighteenth century, and gives a good many details on Wedgwood's associations with men like Erasmus Darwin, Joseph Priestly, Matthew Boulton, and James Watt, as well as the other members of the Lunar Society.
LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
My mother and some of my siblings worked in a pottery factory, and in my youth I went there many times and caught some glimpses of how things were done. This factory employed hundreds of workers. doing some awful, monotonous, carpal tunnel-generating routines. They made only the most basic stuff, quickly and cheaply. Nothing produced was of much beauty, but it was the town's most important employer, and many workers gave their lives over to it. Wedgwood pottery has always intrigued me--how the devil do they produce such incredibly beautiful stuff, so different from what I saw there? How are the finer pieces made with such reproducibility and perfection? There is a fine story here and Dolan has told it well. When Josiah Wedgwood was born in 1730, the youngest of twelve children, into the home of a potter in the Britain's Midlands. His humble beginnings, rising through the ranks, finally, at the age of 29, led him to establish his own small pottery business. Wedgewood was determined to achieve greater success and made a key decision--that he would continuously improve the processes used and invent new and wonderful things. He established a routine of constant experimentation and recorded all of his results meticulously into a laboratory notebook. He was constantly looking for new combinations of materials and firing methods to get new glazes and improved results. He looked for reliable, reproducible processes that could be introduced into his small factory. And he inspired his men to improve right along with the processes by paying careful attention to their working conditions, their safety, and their security. His men loved him, and he succeeded to become the foremost manufacturer of his day. Wedgwood paid very careful attention to the fashions of the day, and strived to keep abreast. This required an approach that was constantly changing--resting on one's laurels and yesterday's success would only lead to failure. He produced much that was top of the line, and learned to market to the trend setters and royalty, then moving the product into the growing middle class. The setting in which he struggled was the early industrial revolution, where change was accelerating in Britain through a confluence of forces that are only poorly understood even today. Giants seemed to stalk the earth, and Wedgwood came to know many of them. He knew James Watt, and his metal-working partner Mathew Boulton, who at one point even tried to compete with him. This was the era of canal-building, and Wedgwood played a big role in this too. Much of this story is contained, though in much less detail, in _The Lunar Men_ by Jenny Uglow, which I would also recommend. Curiously, though, Wedgwood is counted as one of the five central members of the Lunar Society (encompassing a whole column in the index), this is mentioned only once by Dolan. The author has done an outstanding job in this book and it is well written. The sixteen pages of glossy photos contribute a lot to the book too. The story told here is an inspiring one, and will certainly encourage the reader to learn more about this astounding era.
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