Ralph Wedgwood (1766–1837) was an English inventor and member of the Wedgwood family of potters – a member that is rarely mentioned in any situation. He was born in Burslem, Staffordshire, the eldest son of Thomas Wedgwood and his wife Elizabeth and the cousin – and later business partner – of Josiah Wedgwood. Funding £200 for Ralph’s inventions would, in due time, be provided by Josiah’s eldest son, Josiah Wedgwood II!
It was on Tuesday, 7th October 1806 that Ralph Wedgwood secured a patent for a machine that made the first documented use of carbon paper, a commodity that would eventually become an indispensable part of office life.
The original purpose of this device was to enable the blind or partially sighted to write with more ease than with a traditional pen. Ralph’s ‘carbonised paper’ was impregnated with ink on both sides and was initially intended to produce a single copy by placing it between two sheets of paper and writing with a metal stylus on the top sheet. He called the device a “stylographic writer” or ‘a noctograph’. He also had a project for writing at different distant places by one act at nearly the same instant that suggests he had in mind some form of telegraphy.
Josiah Wedgwood II’s loan of £200 to produce the invention and its success can be measured by Thomas’s estimate that in the first seven years it had made £10,000 in profits!