For most people the name Wedgwood evokes visions of dinner services and ornate vases on mantelpieces. Biologists associate the name Josiah Wedgwood, born on 12th July 1730, with the maternal grandfather of Charles Darwin and the paternal grandfather of his wife Emma Darwin, née Wedgwood. However the good Josiah would have a place in the history of science if he had never produced any grandchildren. As I wrote in my brief post on Joseph Priestley, Wedgwood was along with Matthew Boulton, of steam engine fame, and Erasmus Darwin, Charles’ paternal grandfather, one of the founders of the Lunar Men, possibly the most interesting scientific society of the 18th century.
Josiah himself was a potter who had served a traditional apprenticeship but who would go on to play a central role in the industrial revolution; he built up the family business into one the worlds leading ceramic companies. Wedgwood’s success was not only based on sound business sense but on systematic science based technique research. All of his life he conducted systematic scientific investigations into the composition of clays and glazes developing new forms of ceramic and finishes. His greatest scientific achievement was the invention of a pyrometer, a thermometer that determines temperatures visually, in order to be able to exactly control the temperature of his kilns; for this he was elected a member of the Royal Society. Outside of his work Josiah, along with his friends in the Lunar Society, was a passionate amateur scientist making active contributions to geology, mineralogy and botany.
Next time you stumble over the name Wedgwood remember that Josiah was not only the worlds most famous grandfather of a scientist but also an important scientist in his own right.