Matthew Boulton (1728 to 1809)
Matthew Boulton was born in Slaney Street, Birmingham, in 1728. Yet despite Boulton’s importance little is known about his childhood other than that he was educated at the school of the Reverend John Housted of Deritend. In 1745 he joined his father’s firm, which made small decorative accessories such as snuff boxes or tooth pick cases, known as ‘toys’. From his father's death in 1759 he transformed the company from a family concern to an internationally renowned metalwork business. This was assisted by the considerable fortune he inherited from his wives, the sisters Mary and Ann Robinson. Matthew married Ann in 1760, less than a year after the death of Mary, having courted Ann with letters often addressed to “beloved angel” and “dearest creature”. [Letters from Matthew Boulton to Ann Robinson. MS 3782/16/1]
The first partnership of Matthew Boulton with John Fothergill ran from 1762 until Fothergill’s death in 1782. Boulton & Fothergill primarily made metal objects and ‘toys’. Yet it was Boulton’s partnership with James Watt in 1775 and their experiments into steam powered machinery at his Soho manufactory which led to “Fire-Engines” being applied internationally for water pumps, boats, mills and mints. The mints were Boulton’s major concern during the last twenty years of his life. Matthew Boulton’s notebooks are also full of scientific calculations and experiments, including everything from the use of steam, to the heat applied through an egg whilst being boiled. [Boulton’s Notebook 1751 to 1759. MS 3782/12/108/1] Such innovation was similarly present in their circle of friends and scientists called the Lunar Society, who met occasionally to experiment, socialize and share inventions.
Matthew Boulton on the Revolutionary Players website, including letters from Erasmus Darwin