Matthew Boulton and the Soho Enterprises

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Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) was undoubtedly a leading figure in the West Midlands Enlightenment.

During his sixty-year career he changed the face of manufacturing, was instrumental in the development of steam engineering and established a Mint to produce coins and medals. He also ventured into many other business pursuits, engaged in a range of social causes and economic campaigns and pursued a multitude of personal interests. A fascinating figure, the full story of Matthew Boulton’s life and works has yet to be told.

Matthew Boulton was born in Birmingham in 1728. His father was a manufacturer of ‘toys’ – the name given to small articles in silver and cut steel, such as buttons, buckles and other trinkets. Samuel Smiles, the nineteenth-century biographer of Boulton and James Watt (1736-1819), records that Boulton was educated at a private academy in Deritend, Birmingham, and that before reaching adulthood he had ‘introduced several important improvements in the manufacture of buttons, watch-chains, and other trinkets’.

Any study of Boulton’s life and work reveals his continual interest in broadening his knowledge. By his late twenties he had begun to assemble a library spanning literary works and scientific treatises. No doubt he also attended some of the scientific lectures and demonstrations that were common in Birmingham.

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Matthew Boulton:

Matthew Boulton: a Revolutionary Player explores the life and importance of the industrialist and entrepreneur, Matthew Boulton (1728-1809), a central figure in Britain’s Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution. He promoted new technology and manufacturing techniques to produce buttons, buckles, silverware, ormolu, coins and medals in his Soho Manufactory and Mint near...

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