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British Industrial History

Matthew Boulton

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Mathew Boulton
1930WilmoreBoulton.jpg
c1772. Made by Matthew Boulton. Exhibit at Temple Newsham Museum.
c1772. Made by Matthew Boulton. Exhibit at Temple Newsham Museum.
c1772. Made by Matthew Boulton. Exhibit at Temple Newsham Museum.
1770. Exhibit at Birmingham Museum.

Matthew Boulton (1728–1809), an English manufacturer and entrepreneur, chiefly known for his partnership with James Watt in Boulton and Watt.

1728 September 3rd. Born at New Hall Walk, Snow Hill, Birmingham, the son of Matthew Boulton, Senior and his wife Christiana

He was educated at the academy of the Reverend John Hausted in Deritend, Birmingham.

1745 Leaves school and joins the family business

In 1749 he became a partner in his father's business (and the general manager)

In 1749 Boulton married Mary the daughter of Luke Robinson, a distant cousin through the Babington family and heir to a large fortune. The Boultons had three daughters in the 1750s, but all died in infancy

1750 Daughter Dorothea died

1753 Daughter Anne born

1753 Daughter Anne died

1755 Acquired Sarehole Mill, which they used for rolling sheet metal.

1759 His wife Mary died and a month later his father died

1760 June. He married Ann Robinson the sister of Mary his first wife

1761 Leased thirteen acres of land at Soho, Handsworth

Early 1760s Boulton acquired the technology for manufacturing Sheffield plate. For some years he was the only producer of it outside Sheffield under the title of M. Boulton Plate Co.

1762 Boulton went into partnership with John Fothergill from 1762 to 1782 as Boulton and Fothergill and they established the Soho Manufactory, two miles north of Birmingham. Boulton invested £6,000 and Fothergill £5,000. Here they undertook the manufacture of artistic objects in metal, such as his cut steel buttons, earlier marcasite imitations of diamonds, that were very popular in British society, as well as the reproduction of oil paintings by a mechanical process in which he was associated with Francis Egginton.

In the late 1760s with others he formed the Lunar Society

Between 1762 and 1775 he established a strong reputation as a craftsman; his works at Soho were widely known for excellent and artistic workmanship but the business was not profitable.

About 1767, Boulton, needing to improve the power supply for his machinery, made the acquaintance of James Watt, who on his side appreciated the advantages offered by the Soho Manufactory for the development of his steam-engine.

Late 1760s Boulton began production of ormolu, another luxury product.

1768 January 29th. Birth of daughter Anne Boulton (died 1829 unmarried)

1770 August 8th. Birth of son Matthew Robinson Boulton

1772 Watt's partner, Dr. John Roebuck, got into financial difficulties, and Boulton, to whom he owed £1,200, accepted his two-thirds share in Watt's patent in satisfaction of the debt.

1775 Three years later, Boulton and Watt formally entered into partnership, and it was mainly through the energy and self-sacrifice of the former, who devoted all the capital he had or could borrow to the enterprise, that the steam engine was at length made a commercial success.

For 11 years the Soho Manufactory made Watt's steam-engines for colliery owners to pump water out of mines, the Boulton and Watt engine being four times more powerful than Thomas Newcomen's original design.

1775 Boulton arranged an act of parliament extending the term of Watt's 1769 patent to 1799.

Late 1770s Boulton and Francis Eginton went into the business of mechanical painting, but it was not a success and Fothergill insisted that it should cease. Eginton subsequently achieved a reputation as a worker in stained or enamelled glass. In this, he was also encouraged by Robert Adam.

1781 Watt marketed his rotary-motion steam engine. The earlier steam engine's vertical movement was ideal for operating water pumps but the new engine could be adapted to drive all sorts of machinery. Richard Arkwright pioneered its use in his cotton mills and within 15 years there were 500+ Boulton and Watt steam engines in British factories and mines.

1782 Fothergill, his partner, died and he formed another partnership with John Scale as Boulton and Scale to manufacture buttons and other items.

1783 His wife Mary was found dead in a pool in the grounds of Soho House

1788 Boulton turned his attention to coining machinery, and erected at Soho a complete plant, Soho Mint, with which he struck coins for the Sierra Leone and East India companies and for Russia.

1794 He bought the freehold of the Soho estate

1795 Matthew Boulton began construction of the Soho Foundry about one mile from his Soho Manufactory where he would build steam engines to the design of James Watt for a new use, namely in mills and factories which required rotating shaft drive. The foundry opened in 1796[1]. The business was known as Boulton, Watt & Sons.

1797 Boulton produced a new copper coinage for Britain. Also in 1797, he took out a patent in connection with raising water on the principle of the hydraulic ram.

1798 A number of businesses were operating at Soho[2]:

1800 the two partners retired from the Boulton and Watt business, which they handed over to their sons, Matthew Robinson Boulton and James Watt (Junior). The business was known as Boulton, Watt & Co.

1809 August 18th. Boulton died in Birmingham and was buried in the grounds of St. Mary's Church, Handsworth, in Birmingham. Boulton was a key member of the Lunar Society. His home, Soho House, is now a museum.

He is also remembered by the Moonstones; a statue of him, Watt and Murdoch, by William Bloye, Matthew Boulton College, and Boulton Road, all in Birmingham. There is also a Boulton Road in Smethwick.

Key innovations

  • Boulton's secret to improving workers' productivity was by equipping his works with all kinds of labour-saving devices made by the use of clever designs with interchangeable components, and making use of technology to reproduce designs, each of which was efficiently manufactured in quantity.
  • Instead of putting work out in the traditional way to toy-makers around the town, he brought all the functions of a modern business, including design and marketing, under his control.
  • In the 1770s he introduced a very early social insurance scheme, funded by workers' contributions of 1/60th of their wages, and which paid benefits of up to 80% of wages to staff who were sick or injured or killed.
  • He ensured that the works were clean, well lit and well ventilated.
  • He refused to employ young children.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Lunar Men, by Jenny Uglow, Faber and Faber,2002
  2. Boulton and Watt correspondence [1]
  • [2] Wikipedia
  • Biography of Matthew Boulton, ODNB