The Gutenberg Printing Press

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December 31, 2020

The Gutenberg Printing Press

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Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg was born circa 1440 and died on February 3, 1468.   He was a German goldsmith, inventor, printer and publisher. His introduction to Europe of the movable-type printing press played a key role in the development of the Renaissance, Reformation, Age of Enlightenment, and most importantly, the spread of learning to the masses. Gutenberg’s printing press had the greatest impact on literacy.

Printing was first developed in China and Korea. Gutenberg did not invent the printing press but conceived the idea of a movable type utilizing three distinct technologies, which were used by humans for previous centuries.   Gutenberg combined the technologies of paper, viscous oil-based ink, and the wine press to print brooks which allowed for the mass production and distribution of written work.  As a result, individuals were provided access to more information.  Written work was more uniform in its viewing format which led to more consistent spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Gutenberg was the first man to make type from an alloy of lead, tin, and antimony, which was important for creating durable type that produced high-quality printed books and proved to be much better suited for printing. To create this, Gutenberg utilized a special matrix enabling the quick and precise molding of new type blocks from a uniform template. His type case contained 290 separate letter boxes, required for special characters, ligatures, punctuations, etc.

Prior to the press, only the wealthy upper class could afford books so literate individuals were only found at this level. By the invention of the Gutenberg Printing Press, these books were now available to the public. Some scholars even claim that medieval culture was changed to a literate one.

The printing press was an agent of change in terms of scientists who could easily exchange and share information, as well as education. Students who took advantage of silent technical and updated texts especially in mathematics began to surpass not only their elders, but the wisdom of ancients.

Many works were produced in Latin and the printing press assisted in promoting this language. However, over time and with an increasing literate public, the books were translated from Latin and replaced by the vernacular language of the country.  Starting in 1520, many printers turned their offices into workshops for translators.  This positively impacted and increases literacy rates.

The most immediate effect of the Gutenberg Printing Press was the output of a greater number of books at a more economical price to the public. The increased availability and access helped spread political and religious movements in Europe and increased literacy rates.

For more information, please see:

blogs.ubc.ca/etec540sept10/2010/10/30/printing-press-and-its-impact-on-literacy
Eisenstein, 1979, p.689)
Gehardt 1978, p.217
Mahnke, Helmut (2009); Der kunstreiche Johannes Gutenberg und die Fruhzeit der Druckkunst, Norderstedt: Books on Demand, ISBN 978-3-8370-5041-7 McLuhan 1962. Eisenstein 1980; Febvre & Martin 1997; Man 2002