Before the invention of the printing press, books had to be copied by hand — a slow and laborious process. To make matters more challenging, if an error was made while copying a book, there was no way to correct it. Each new copy had to be transcribed again from scratch. Ink, parchment, and document production were all manual processes in the Middle Ages; this is why we still refer to that period as the "Dark Ages" when it comes to literacy and education.
It wasn't until Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440 that things changed for the better, at least in the west. This week’s article takes an informative look at how he did it, its impact on society, and where his first printing press can be found today. Read on to learn something new!
Likeness of Johannes, made sometime after his death
Johannes Gutenberg is arguably the most important person in the history of the printing press. A German goldsmith and inventor, he was inspired to create a method to mass-produce books using moveable type after experimenting with materials such as gold, lead, and tin. Gutenberg was born around the year 1400 in the German city of Mainz. He grew up during a turbulent period in European history when the Hundred Years' War was raging between England and France, and the Black Plague was decimating populations throughout the continent.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE PRESS
Printing was invented in China in the year 1045. The Chinese were the first to use movable type, which is why the country is often referred to as the "cradle of printing.” The process of printing by using movable type was slow and arduous, and the Chinese did not have the resources to develop it further.
A page from bronze movable-type book by Hua Sui, printed in 1490 (Ming Dynasty)
Johannes Gutenberg studied the Chinese method of printing, and he combined it with the use of oil-based inks and a new type of paper made from rag pulp. The result was a printing machine that used movable type and could produce multiple copies of a document quickly and efficiently.
The printing press had a massive impact on literate societies, and it is often referred to as one of the most important inventions in the history of humankind. Before the printing press, the majority of the population was illiterate, and books were often written in Latin and kept to a small select group of people who could understand them. Gutenberg’s invention helped to democratize information, and it contributed to the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance. One historian has called the printing press, "the most important invention of the second millennium." More people were now able to acquire books that had previously been accessible only to an elite group of people. Religious texts could be printed in multiple languages to be shared with the majority of the population wherever they lived. The printing press also helped people become more educated, as it reduced the cost of obtaining books.
THE FIRST PRESS
Gutenberg’s first printing press can be seen today in the Gutenberg Museum in the German city of Mainz. It is a wooden machine that uses movable type. Since it was built there have been five other versions of the printing press, with the latest dating from the 1980s. The Gutenberg Museum also contains many first-edition printed books, including Gutenberg’s Bible, the first book to be printed by movable type in 1455.
The invention of the printing press changed the world forever.It allowed people to acquire information more quickly and easily. The printing press was also a profitable business; Gutenberg became a very wealthy man as a result. The invention has remained an important part of the world in which we live and is still considered a revolutionary machine that transcends language and culture. It transformed the way people communicate, acquire information, and share ideas, and it is a technology likely to remain relevant and important for centuries to come — at least we hope so here at HIP. Some things never change, you know. Publishers print books and people buy them.
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