Matthew Boulton 1728 - 1809

Timeline 1728     Timeline 1809   

AirpumpMatthew Boulton was born in Birmingham, the son of a button and buckle maker. Birmingham was the city of a thousand trades and small decorative metal items,  known as "Birmingham toys", were among the most lucrative of exports from the area. Matthew joined his father's business after leaving school and learned the toy trade. In 1761 he acquired land at Handsworth on the outskirts of Birmingham and began construction of the pioneering Soho Manufactory.  The factory featured all the most modern manufacturing equipment and operated the most up to date production methods, becoming one of the most prolific manufacturing sites in England.

The Manufactory was world-renowned and engineers and industrialists flocked to see it. Boulton was admired among his contemporaries and numbered many of the era's most influential scientists and thinkers among his friends.  He was one of the founders of the Lunar Society, a group of like-minded men who met each month to share their ideas and knowledge. Their meetings often included experiments such as that illustrated in Joseph Wright of Derby's 1768 work, Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump. (see left)

The group took its name from the full moon, which they chose as the date of their meetings so that they could find their way home more easily by its light.

Boulton recognised talent in the young scientists and engineers of the day and in 1775 he offered James Watt a partnership at Soho where he could develop his ideas about the steam engine. Boulton and Watt engines were highly successful and drove much of the machinery of the Industrial Revolution.

Soho HouseHis other successes included setting up the Soho mint, where he produced medals and foreign coins and was eventually awarded the contract to produce British copper coins.  He also campaigned for Birmingham to have its own assay office so that the craftsmen of the nearby jewellery quarter need not ship their wares to London for hallmarking. Boulton's home at Soho House is now a museum dedicated to his life and works.

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