The Idea Of One Man
Before Gutenberg’s invention, any book or news publication was printed by hand. This painstaking process took many hours of careful scribing. Books were also printed using the block method, which involved carving individual letters into blocks of wood and then pressing the blocks onto paper. This process took a long time, causing the price of books to be very expensive and could only be purchased by the wealthy and literate.
Historians believe that Gutenberg was born in Mainz, Germany in 1399. Growing up as a young man, he was trained and well skilled as a metallurgist, a gem cutter, and a goldsmith. However, it was difficult for him to make money in these trades and by the early 1440’s he was inspired to find a new way to make more money.
Gutenberg then began to form a machine that would print text using movable type. He created a mixture of tin, antinomy and lead that melted at lower temperatures, set well in the die, and was quite durable during the printing process. He then was able to create separate pieces of type that could be formed to make words. Then, the mirror image of each letter in the alphabet was carved into a block. These blocks could then be moved around to make words and eventually sentences.
The Impact of Gutenberg’s Invention
One of the greatest impacts Gutenberg made on society was the creation of his now famous Gutenberg Bible. By 1455, he had created two hundred copies of the Bible. Some were printed on sheets of vellum. While the Bibles were quite costly, equaling three years’ pay for an average clerk, the Bibles sold with great speed at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Amazingly about fifty of these Bibles are still in sound condition today.
By 1500, nearly 2,500 cities in Europe had printing presses. Italy, especially, grew to be quite prominent in the printing industry, with Aldus Manutius, a Venetian printer, leading the way in publishing classic pieces of literature.
Other beneficial impacts of Gutenberg’s invention and other presses included:
- Increased quantities of books at libraries
- The availability of information, literature, and religious texts to more of the population
- The acceleration of the distribution and conservation of information in the fields of science, medicine, and technology
- Motivation of the illiterate to learn to read, creating a life long exploration of literature and the written word
While other engineers and cultures soon adapted Gutenberg’s printing press, his legacy and impact on society and human history will continue to live on. His ingenuity and invention revolutionized the power of literature and the written word. It is difficult to imagine today’s world without newspapers, magazines, children’s picture books and classroom booksets, and novels, for they have become important pieces in education, news broadcasting, entertainment, and science. Gutenberg is truly a man to marvel and admire.