Matthew Boulton and the Soho Enterprises


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.

KEYWORDS: Matthew Boulton, Enlightenment, Soho, Steam Engine, Boulton and Watt, Birmingham, James Watt, Coins, Silverware, Buttons, Toys, Power, Lunar Men, Lunar Society, Mint, Metal

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