Fascinating facts about the invention of the Printing Press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440.
Fascinating facts about the invention of the Printing Press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440.


In 1440, German inventor Johannes Gutenberg invented a printing press process that, with refinements and increased mechanization, remained the principal means of printing until the late 20th century. The inventor's method of printing from movable type, including the use of metal molds and alloys, a special press, and oil-based inks, allowed for the first time the mass production of printed books.

Invention: printing press

Function: noun / print?ing press
Definition: A machine that transfers lettering or images by contact with various forms of inked surface onto paper or similar material fed into it in various ways The device is used for printing many copies of a text on paper.

Inventor: Johannes Gutenberg (aka Johann Gutenberg)

Criteria; First practical. Modern prototype. Entrepreneur.
Birth: c1400 in Mainz, Germany
Death: February 3, 1468 in Mainz, Germany
Nationality: German

888 The Diamond Sutra, a Buddhist scripture, was the first dated example of block printing.
1041 Bi Sheng in China invented movable clay type
1423 Europeans use xylography (art of engraving on wood, block printing) to produce books.
1430 Gutenberg moved from his native town of Mainz to Strasburg
1436 Gutenberg begins work on his printing press.
1437 Gutenberg was sued for "breach of promise of marriage" by a young lady of Strasburg
1440 Gutenberg completed his wooden press which used movable metal type.
1440 Laurens Janszoon Koster (Coster) is credited, by some, with inventing movable metal type
1444 Gutenberg returns to Mainz and sets up a printing shop
1446 Gutenberg prints the "Poem of the Last Judgment"
1448 Gutenberg prints the "Calendar for 1448"
1450 Gutenberg' formed a partnership with the wealthy Johann Fust
1450 Gutenberg begins work on a Bible, the first is 40 lines per page.
1452 Gutenberg begins printing the 42-line Bible in two volumes.
1454 Gutenberg prints indulgences (notes sold to Christians by the Pope, pardoning their sins)
1455 First block-printed Bible, the Biblia Pauperum, published in Germany.
1455 Gutenberg completed work on what is estimated to be 200 copies of the Bible
1455 Gutenberg was effectively bankrupt. Investor Johann Faust gains control of print business
1457 First known color printing, a Psalter (a collection of Psalms for devotional use) by Faust.
1460 Gutenberg reestablished himself in the printing business with the aid of Conrad Humery
1461 Albrecht Pfister printed the first illustrated book Edelstein which featured a number of woodcuts.
1465 Gutenberg is appointed to the court of Archbishop Adolf of Nassau
1476 Two hundred woodcuts were used in a edition of Aesop's Fables
1476 First use of copper engravings instead of woodcuts for illustration
1476 William Caxton sets up his printing press in Westminster, England.
1499 Printing had become established in more than 2500 cities around Europe.
1499 An estimated 15 million books have been press printed, representing thirty thousand book titles
CAPs: Johannes Gutenberg, Johann Gutenberg, Bi Sheng, Laurens Janszoon Koster, Johann Faust, Peter Schoffer, Albrecht Pfister, Conrad Humery, Archbishop Adolf of Nassau, William Caxton, Gutenberg Bible, 42-line Bible, Mazarin Bible, Diamond Sutra, Poem of the Last Judgment, Calendar for 1448, Psalter, Aesop's Fables,
SIPs: printing press, movable type, xylography, metal type, indulgences, typography, letterpress printing, invention, history, inventor of, history of, who invented, invention of, fascinating facts.

The Story:
In the mid-15th century Johannes Gutenberg invented a mechanical way of making books. This was the first example of mass book production. Before the invention of printing, multiple copies of a manuscript had to be made by hand, a laborious task that could take many years. Later books were produced by and for the Church using the process of wood engraving. This required the craftsman to cut away the background, leaving the area to be printed raised. This process applied to both text and illustrations and was extremely time-consuming. When a page was complete, often comprising a number of blocks joined together, it would be inked and a sheet of paper was then pressed over it for an imprint. The susceptibility of wood to the elements gave such blocks a limited lifespan .

In the Far East, movable type and printing presses were known but did not replace printing from individually carved wooden blocks, from movable clay type, processes much more efficient than hand copying. The use of movable type in printing was invented in 1041 AD by Bi Sheng in China. Since there are thousands of Chinese characters, the benefit of the technique is not as obvious as in European languages.

In China, there were no texts similar to the Bible which could guarantee a printer return on the high capital investment of a printing press, and so the primary form of printing was wood block printing which was more suited for short runs of texts for which the return was uncertain

It is not clear whether Gutenberg knew of these existing techniques or invented them independently, though the former is considered unlikely because of the substantial differences in technique. Europeans use xylography (art of engraving on wood, block printing) to produce books and used by European textile makers to print patterns on fabric.

Gutenberg began experimenting with metal typography (letterpress printing) after he had moved from his native town of Mainz to Strassburg around 1430. Knowing that wood-block type involved a great deal of time and expense to reproduce, because it had to be hand carved, Gutenberg concluded that metal type could be reproduced much more quickly once a single mold had been fashioned.

When Johannes Gutenberg began building his press in 1436, he was unlikely to have realised that he was giving birth to an art form which would take center stage in the social and industrial revolutions which followed. He was German, his press was wooden, and the most important aspect of his invention was that it was the first form of printing to use movable type.

His initial efforts enabled him in 1440 to mass-produce indulgences -- printed slips of paper sold by the Catholic Church to remit temporal punishments in purgatory for sins committed in this life, for those wealthy enough to afford indulgences. Although Laurence Koster (Coster) of Haarlem, Netherlands also laid claim to the invention, scholars have generally accepted Gutenberg as the father of modern printing.

Gutenberg left Strasburg, presumably about 1444. He seems to have perfected at enormous expense his invention shortly afterwards, as is shown by the oldest specimens of printing that have come down to us, the "Poem of the Last Judgment", and the "Calendar for 1448"). The fact that Arnolt Gelthuss, a relative of Gutenberg, lent him money in the year 1448 at Mainz points to the same conclusion.

Legal documents indicate that Gutenberg probably began printing the Bible around 1450. It was in this year that Gutenberg entered into a partnership with Johann Fust who lent him money to finance the production of a Bible. Gutenberg certainly introduced efficient methods into book production, leading to a boom in the production of texts in Europe -- in large part, owing to the popularity of the Gutenberg Bibles, the first mass-produced work, starting in 1452. Even so, Gutenberg was a poor businessman, and made little money from his printing system.
The earliest dated specimens of printing by Gutenberg are papal indulgences (notes given to Christians by the Pope, pardoning their sins) issued in Mainz in 1454. In 1455, Gutenberg demonstrated the power of the printing press by selling copies of a two-volume Bible for a price that was the equivalent of approximately three years' wages for an average clerk, but it was significantly cheaper than a handwritten Bible that could take a single monk 20 years to transcribe.

In 1455, just as the project was nearing completion Johann Fust sued Gutenberg, taking possession of his printing equipment and the almost completed edition of the Bible. Fust subsequently entered into partnership with Peter Schoffer, who had been Gutenberg's assistant, and the project was finally completed in 1456 whereupon Fust undertook the task of marketing the bible. Fust first attempted to sell the Bibles as manuscripts but once potential purchasers observed the uniformity of the volumes, he had to reveal the means by which they were produced.

The mortgage covered the copious stock of type which had evidently been already prepared for the edition of the Psalter, which was printed by Fust and Schoffer in August, 1457. This included new type in two sizes, as well as the world-famous initial letters with their ingenious contrivance for two-color printing.

In 1457 Fust and Schoffer published a large Psalter, known as the Mainz Psalter, which featured printed red and blue intitials along with the black text. There is some debate about how these coloured letters were printed. They were either printed from two part metal blocks that were inked separately, re-assembled and then printed with the text, or they were stamped on after the main text was printed. Either way the process was time consuming and expensive so for several years it was more common for such decorative elements to be added by hand. The Mainz Psalter was also the first book to bear a printer's trademark and imprint, a printed date of publication and a colophon.

About 1457 Gutenberg also parted with his earliest-constructed founts of type, which he had made for the 40-line Bible,.Long before this Bible was printed the type had been used in an edition of the "Poem of the Last Judgment", and in the "Calendar for 1448", in editions of Donatus, and various other printed works. Most of this type fell into the possession of Albrecht Pfister in Bamberg.1460

The first person to print illustrated books was Albrecht Pfister. Around 1460 he published a book titled Der Ackermann von Bohmen (The Farmer from Bohmen). The only surviving copy of the first edition contains no illustrations but space has been left for them. A second edition printed in 1463 does include images. In 1461 Pfister printed an edition of Der Edelstein (a series of fables in German) which contained 101 woodcut illustrations. The woodcuts were in simple outline and were probably intended to be hand colored. (Most surviving copies have in fact been colored.)

Gutenberg next manufactured a new printer's outfit with the assistance he received from Conrad Humery, a distinguished and wealthy doctor of law, leader of the popular party, and chancellor of the council. This outfit comprised a set of small types fashioned after the round cursive handwriting used in books at that time and ornamented with an extraordinary number of ligatures. The type was used in the so-called "Catholicon" (grammar and alphabetic lexicon) in the year 1460, and also in several small books printed in Eltville down to the year 1472 by the brothers Echterm?nze, relatives of Gutenberg. The Elector of Mainz, Archbishop Adolf of Nassau, presented him with a benefice (an ecclesiastical office in 1465) yielding an income and various privileges.

Gutenberg's invention spread rapidly after his death in 1468.. It met in general with a ready, and an enthusiastic reception in the centers of culture. The names of more than 1000 printers, mostly of German origin, have come down to us from the fifteenth century. In Italy we find well over 100 German printers, in France 30, in Spain 26. Many of the earliest printers outside of Germany had learned their art in Mainz, where they were known as "goldsmiths". Among those who were undeniably pupils of Gutenberg, and who probably were also assistants in the Gutenberg-Fust printing house were (besides Schoffer), Numeister, Keffer, and Ruppel; Mentel in Strasburg (before 1460), Pfister in Bamberg (1461), Sweynheim in Subiaco and Rome (1464), and Johann von Speyer in Venice (1469).

The blocks used to illustrate early printed books were small and the images were often generic. There is evidence that printers exchanged blocks, with the same images being used in different editions of books. For example, two hundred woodcuts were used in a 1476 edition of Aesop's Fables and appear again in an edition by a different printer in 1480. There are also examples where the same image has been used to represent different subjects. In early illustrated books the text and illustrations were printed in separate operations, possibly because the type and the wood blocks were of different heights, but later examples were printed in one impression.

The first use of copper engravings for illustration occurred in 1476. Early experiments in using engraving for illustrations were not successful because the two different methods of printing not only required two operations; they required different types of equipment. As a result registration problems occurred. The solution was to print the images on separate sheets of paper and bind them into the book or to print on thin paper and cut out and paste the images in place.

William Caxton learned the printing trade in Europe and set up his press in Westminster, England. 1476 Many early printing types were calligraphic - they imitated handwriting. Caxton used and was famed for his Black Letter type which imitated the writing of the Haarlem monks. Artistically, he was perhaps the finest printer of his day although, as a man of politics and letters, he was an amateur.

The new printing presses had spread like brushfire through Europe. By 1499 print-houses had become established in more than 2500 cities in Europe. Fifteen million books had been flung into a world where scholars would travel miles to visit a library stocked with twenty hand-written volumes. Scholars argue about the number. It could've been as few as eight million or as many as twenty four. But the output of new books had been staggering by any reasonable estimate. The people had suddenly come into possession of some thirty thousand new book titles.

While the Gutenberg press was much more efficient than manual copying, the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of the steam powered rotary press allowed thousands of copies of a page in a single day. Mass production of printed works flourished after the transition to rolled paper, as continuous feed allowed the presses to run at a much faster pace.

Gutenberg's invention did not make him rich, but it laid the foundation for the commercial mass production of books. The success of printing meant that books soon became cheaper, and ever wider parts of the population could afford them. More than ever before, it enabled people to follow debates and take part in discussions of matters that concerned them. As a consequence, the printed book also led to more stringent attempts at censorship. This was a sign that it was felt by those in authority to be dangerous and challenging to their position.

Gutenberg's Movable Metal Type
In the Far East, movable type and printing presses were known but did not replace printing from individually carved wooden blocks, from movable clay type, processes much more efficient than hand copying. The use of movable type in printing was invented in 1041 AD by Bi Sheng in China. Since there are thousands of Chinese characters, the benefit of the technique is not as obvious as in European languages.

It is not clear whether Gutenberg knew of these existing techniques or invented them independently, though the former is considered unlikely because of the substantial differences in technique.The print technology that produced the Gutenberg Bible marks the beginning of a cultural revolution unlike any that followed the development of print culture in Asia.

Gutenberg was a goldsmith, a worker in metals, and a lapidary, and his invention both in conception and execution shows the worker in metals. Gutenberg multiplied the separate types in metal molds. The types thus produced he built in such a way that they might be aligned like the manuscript he was copying.

His aim, technically and  sthetically so extremely difficult, was the mechanical reproduction of the characters used in the manuscripts, i.e. the hand lettered books of the time. The works printed by Gutenberg plainly prove that the types used in them were made by a casting process where the letter-patterns were cut on small steel rods termed patrices, and the dies thus made were impressed on some soft metal, such as copper, producing the matrices, which were cast in the mold in such a manner as to form the "face" and "body" of the type at one operation.

The printing type represents therefore a multiplicity of cast reproductions of the original die, or patrix. In addition to this technical process of type-setting, Gutenberg found himself confronted with a problem hardly less difficult, namely, the copying of the beautiful calligraphy found in the books of the fifteenth century, constantly bearing in mind that it must be possible to engrave and to cast the individual forms, since the types, when set, must be substantially replicas of the model.

The genius of Gutenberg found a brilliant solution to this problem in all its complicated details. Even in the earliest types he made (e.g. in the Calendar for 1448), it can recognize not only the splendid reproduction of the actual forms of the original handwriting, but also the extremely artistic remodeling of individual letters necessitated by technical requirements.

The type reproductions were the work of a calligraphic artist of the highest order. He applied the well-tested rules of the calligraphist's art to the casting of types, observing in particular the rudimentary principle of always leaving the same space between the vertical columns of the text. Consequently Gutenberg prepared two markedly different forms of each letter, the normal separate form, and the compound or linked form which, being joined closely to the type next to it, avoids gaps. It is significant that this unique kind of letter is to be found in only four types, and these four are associated with Gutenberg.

No typographer in the fifteenth century was able to follow the ideal of the original inventor, and consequently research attributes to Gutenberg types of this character, namely, the two Bible and the two Psalter types. Especially in the magnificent design and in the technical preparation of the Psalter of 1457 do we recognize the pure, ever-soaring inventive genius of Gutenberg.

Gutenberg's Printing Press
The spread of literacy and the development of universities meant that by the 15th century, despite an assembly line approach to the production of books, supply was no longer able to meet demand. As a result there was widespread interest in finding an alternative means of producing books.Before books could be mass produced, several developments were necessary.

A ready supply of suitable material that could be printed on was required. Manuscript books were written on vellum and this material was used for some early printed books, but vellum was expensive and not available in sufficient quantity for the mass production of books. The introduction of the technique of making paper and the subsequent development of a European papermaking industry was a necessary condition for the widespread adoption of print technology.

Although a number of people had previously attempted to make metal type or had experimented with individual woodcut letters, it was not until a technique was devised for producing metal type in large quantities that printing with moveable type became economically feasible. Gutenberg, who had initially trained as a goldsmith, was to devise a means of producing metal type in sufficient quantities at a reasonable cost. This involved the design of a type-face and the production of molds used for making the individual pieces of type, as well as the development of an alloy that was soft enough to cast yet hard enough to use for printing.

It was also necessary to develop suitable inks for printing with the new type. The water-based inks used for hand lettering and for block printing will not stick to metal type, therefore a viscous oil based ink was required.

Finally, a press was needed for transferring the image from type to paper. Precedents existed in the presses used for making wine, cheese and paper and one of Johannes Gutenberg's innovations was to adapt these presses for the printing process. An operator worked a lever to increase and decrease the pressure of the block against the paper. The invention of the printing press, in turn, set off a social revolution that is still in progress.
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