There have been a great number of inventions throughout history that determined the way of life both in the ancient and modern ages. The wheel, the compass, or the paper; Johannes Gutenberg’s invention, the printing press is a strong member of this powerful list.
It seems so obvious and simple for us, but if we go back in time, we understand that printing press might have been the key for this world to start developing. Both art and science had started to bloom right after, creating the ages of Renaissance, Industrial and Technological Revolution.
Even if primitive forms of printing existed already in ancient China, as well as paper, most of the books were copied by hand. There is no need to mention how time-consuming and slow it was, but actually, that was the reason why books were so rare and so expensive. As a result, most people couldn’t read – why would they have learned it with no books available? They didn’t know much about the world, they were not able to develop in any way, the world was ruled by the Church and the privileged families.
With Gutenberg’s invention, everything changed completely! Books could be produced in large numbers, faster and cheaper than ever. A huge social and cultural revolution has started, mankind has been awakened.
The Invention of the Printing Press
What was Gutenberg’s inspiration to invent the printing press? It has faded away. What we know is that he was eager for all kinds of inventions, and being a goldsmith, he had the money to invest in them.
According to the legend, the idea of the movable printing press came to Gutenberg’s mind “like a ray of light”. What we know for sure is that by 1440 he was busy working on the first prototypes. He used the old techniques as a base, adding his great idea of using molds for each letter character. This technique allowed him to produce individual letters, for the layout of the pages he simply used a wooden frame. That was a good first step, but as every new set of pages had to be done from scratch, it was still too slow, not to mention the decoration of the letters. So he didn’t stop here, and soon – taking advantage of his knowledge about metal – he started to use brass for the casting of the letters. The result was as easy-to-set, durable, recyclable, and reconfigurable technique. For the inking, he started to use a rolling device, which fastened up the printing time significantly.
This was a real breakthrough. Suddenly, lots of copies could be produced in a cheap and quick way. Unfortunately, we know very little about which exact books were printed by Gutenberg, as he never added his name to any of his products. Scientists believe that his first books were a German poetic book and a grammatical textbook for students. His first documented project was the famous Gutenberg Bible, published in 1455, in a considerable 180 copies. Each page had 42 lines and no punctuation, nor indentation of paragraphs which could make it very difficult to read. Still, the Bible, made available for the common people, was the gate to the Age of Enlightenment.
Within a few years, several Gutenberg printing presses opened all over Europe.
The impact of Johannes Gutenberg and his printing press on our everyday life is immeasurable. It resulted an incredible social and cultural revolution, letting Renaissance come alive, launching the development of Modern Science, in other words, everything that means the modern world.