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Johannes Gutenberg and His Printing Press

Johannes Gutenberg (1400-1468)

Johannes Gutenberg Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Johannes Gutenberg invented the Internet. Well, okay, he didn’t, but he might as well have. His invention of the mechanical printing press around 1440 was no less revolutionary than the advent of the World Wide Web. Whether you are reading this blog online or if you printed it out and are reading hard copy, you can thank Gutenberg.

Before Gutenberg, what printing there was in the Western world was used mainly for copying images, reproducing such things as playing cards or creating designs on cloth. All books were laboriously hand made by either monks or professional copyists.

Born in Mainz, Germany, around the year 1400, he began at an early age to study metalworking in his father’s goldsmith shop. While not the first to invent moveable type (the Chinese may have done that), he was the first to perfect the system of mechanical moving type and integrate it into a printing press. His mechanical moveable type ushered in the printing revolution. It helped bring about an era of mass communication that influenced the Renaissance, Protestant Reformation, the Age of Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution.

The Gutenberg Bible

The Gutenberg Bible [Public Domain via Library of Congress]

Gutenberg’s crowning achievement is the iconic Gutenberg Bible, printed in Mainz around 1450. Also called the 42-line Bible because each page has 42 lines of text, it was the first major book printed using his new printing press. An edition of the Latin Vulgate, his version of the Bible is known for its artistic and aesthetic beauty. Since its initial publication, 49 copies have survived. The Library of Congress and the national libraries of Britain and France have complete, near-perfect copies.

Gutenberg Taking the First Proof

Gutenberg Taking the First Proof, Engraving via Library of Congress [Public Domain]

Gutenberg’s experiments made printing practical, and his method of using type endured almost unchanged for five centuries. This month marks the 550th anniversary of the death of Johannes Gutenberg (February 3, 1468). While attempts have been made in recent decades to debunk Gutenberg’s monumental achievement, the opinions of Gutenberg’s contemporaries, along with the substantial historical evidence in his favor, will serve to keep him regarded as one of the most influential figures in world history.

Now would be a good time for History and ELA teachers and STEM programs to encourage students to use eLibrary to research Gutenberg’s revolutionary invention.

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