Meeting the demands of the consumer revolution and growth in wealth of the middle classes that helped drive the Industrial Revolution in Britain, Wedgwood is credited as the inventor of modern marketing. He pioneered direct mail, money back guarantees, travelling salesmen, carrying pattern boxes for display, self-service, free delivery, buy one get one free, and illustrated catalogues.
A prominent abolitionist, Wedgwood is remembered too for his "Am I Not a Man And a Brother?" anti-slavery medallion. He was a member of the Darwin–Wedgwood family, and he was the grandfather of Charles and Emma Darwin.
Born in Burslem, Staffordshire, the eleventh and last child of Thomas Wedgwood (d. 1739) and Mary Wedgwood (née Stringer; d. 1766), Josiah was raised within a family of English Dissenters, he was the grandson of a Unitarian minister and was an active Unitarian. By the age of nine, he was proving himself to be a skilled potter. He survived a childhood bout of smallpox to serve as an apprentice potter under his eldest brother Thomas Wedgwood IV. Smallpox left Josiah with a permanently weakened knee, which made him unable to work the foot pedal of a potter's wheel. As a result, he concentrated from an early age on designing pottery and then making it with the input of other potters.
In his early twenties, Wedgwood began working with the most renowned English pottery-maker of his day, Thomas Whieldon, who eventually became his business partner in 1754. He began experimenting with a wide variety of techniques, an experimentation that coincided with the burgeoning of the nearby industrial city of Manchester. Inspired, Wedgwood leased the Ivy Works in the town of Burslem. From 1768 to 1780 he partnered with Thomas Bentley, a potter of sophistication and astute taste. Over the course of the next decade, his experimentation (and a considerable injection of capital from his marriage to a richly endowed distant cousin) transformed the sleepy artisan works into the first true pottery factory.
In January 1764 Wedgwood married Sarah Wedgwood (1734–1815), his third cousin. They had eight children: