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Series One: The Boulton & Watt Archive and the Matthew Boulton Papers from Birmingham Central Library

Part 1: Lunar Society Correspondence

Part 1 concentrates on the correspondence of Matthew Boulton with members of the Lunar Society. The calibre of members was extremely high. Its founders were William Small of Virginia (sent to see Boulton with a letter of introduction from Benjamin Franklin), Erasmus Darwin (who anticipated his grandson’s evolutionary ideas in his verse) and Matthew Boulton (entrepreneur and businessman).

The society took its name from the decision to hold monthly meetings on Monday evenings closest to the full moon so that members could ride home by the light of the moon. The follwing individuals feature prominently in the correspondence:

  • William Small (one of Thomas Jefferson’s most influential teachers)
  • Erasmus Darwin (poet and physician)
  • Joseph Priestley (pioneering chemist and nonconformist)
  • James Watt (Boulton’s partner for 25 years from 1775)
  • Josiah Wedgwood (founder of the great Wedgwood potteries)
  • William Withering (physician and botanist who introduced digitalis as a treatment for heart disorders)
  • Thomas Day (author and political campaigner)
  • James Keir (a pioneer in the chemical and glass industries)
  • Samuel Galton (engineer)
  • Richard Lovell Edgeworth (author)
  • John Whitehurst (inventor from Derby)

Also included in the correspondence are some very influential men who were on the fringe of the Society. These include:

  • Benjamin Franklin (a corresponding member)
  • John Roebuck (who founded the first sulphuric acid factory with
    Samuel Garbett)
  • Sir Joseph Banks (pioneer naturalist and collector)
  • Dr Thomas Beddoes (physician and chemist)
  • John Fothergill (leading Midland industrialist and colleague of Boulton)
  • James Watt Jnr (son of James Watt)
  • John Smeaton (engineer and industrialist).

This was truly a talking shop where words and ideas were translated into actions, new inventions and industries. The scope of the Society’s activities embraced social, political, economic, scientific and technological problem-solving, so we can also witness discussions on the social impact of the Industrial Revolution and general views on the revolutionary climate of the late eighteenth century.

"… a brilliant microcosm of that scattered community of provincial manufacturers and professional men who found England a rural society with an agricultural economy and left it urban and industrial."
Roger E Schofield 

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