Birth and early life
John Rodgers was born in 1779, the eldest son of Joseph Rodgers, a Sheffield cutler. Three younger brothers were subsequently born: Joseph in 1785; Maurice in 1787; and George in 1789. All four sons went to work in the family cutlery business, which became known as Joseph Rodgers & Sons.
After Joseph Rodgers’ death in 1821, John Rodgers took charge of the firm. In the same year the firm received a Royal Warrant as supplier of cutlery to the royal household, probably after Rodgers was personally introduced to the Prince Regent by Stuart Whortley (later Lord Wharncliffe), Member of Parliament for Yorkshire.
Rodgers was a staunch advocate of Sheffield-made goods. He refused to stamp his factory’s products with the names of London shops, insisting on maintaining his firm’s name and its strong connection with Sheffield. In so doing, he contributed to developing Sheffield cutlery’s worldwide reputation. After his death, one newspaper observed, ‘It was the height of his ambition to enhance the reputation of his native town for the excellency of its staple manufactures.’
John Rodgers retired from active management of the firm in about 1856, when he was in his mid-70s. When he died three years later, around 400 workmen from Joseph Rodgers & Sons were among the large crowd that formed his funeral procession.
Sheffield Banking Company
In 1831 John Rodgers became one of the founding partners in Sheffield Banking Company, along with Samuel Bailey, Edward Smith, Thomas Watson, John Read, Jonathan Marshall, Thomas Poster, Joseph Wilson and John Sorby. Each of them had extensive commercial experience and local economic knowledge. The bank opened for business on 1 July 1831 and soon built a solid foundation for success. The directors steered their way through difficult financial times by keeping substantial capital in their reserves and aiming for long-term, safe profitability, rather than taking advantage of more risky short-term investments.
John Rodgers remained a director of Sheffield Banking Company for almost 28 years, regularly attending board meetings right up to the week before his death. Upon hearing of his death, his fellow directors recorded their gratitude for the ‘zealous and consistent support given from the first to the bank of which he was one of the founders’.
Rodgers was of a reserved and retiring disposition. He disliked public speaking, and once observed, ‘In my journey through life, whatever obstacles or difficulties obstructed my path, I was always able to overcome by perseverance and diligence, with the exception of speech-making.’
In autumn 1859 John Rodgers contracted a cold, which developed into a severe chest infection. He died on 14 October 1859 and was buried in the family vault at Ecclesall.