Disability

Josiah Wedgwood's interest in experimentation owes much to the fact that he contracted the smallpox during the epidemic which swept through North Staffordshire when he was around eleven years of age (in 1741-2). This left him with a severely disabled right knee meaning that he was unable to use the traditional kick wheel used for throwing within the industry. Josiah turned towards experimentation and he systematically endeavoured to improve both the methods and materials used in the ceramic industry. Josiah's enthusiasm to introduce steam power as an alternative means of powering the potters' wheels and lathes was undoubtedly influenced by his disability.

In 1769 his eyes became so bad that he was forbidden to write by candlelight and had to use his wife as a scribe. He was told that his 'sight was at stake' and in January 1770 he wrote to Bentley of his preparations for blindness. 'I am often practising to see with my fingers & think I should make a tolerable proficient in that science for one who begins his studies so late in life, but shall make a wretched walker in the dark with a single leg.'

Images

Letter from Josiah Wedgwood describing the amputation of his leg, Letter from Josiah Wegwood in 1768 describing the amputation of his leg., © Wedgwood Museum

Letter from Josiah Wedgwood describing the amputation of his leg, Letter from Josiah Wegwood in 1768 describing the amputation of his leg.
© Wedgwood Museum