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Gutenberg Printing Press

Page history last edited by Alisha Kramer 10 years, 3 months ago



Johann Gutenberg’s invention of movable-type printing quickened the spread of knowledge, discoveries, and literacy in Renaissance Europe. The printing revolution also contributed mightily to the Protestant Reformation that split apart the Catholic Church.


An invention changed how books were made and dramatically changed people’s lives. “Movable-type printing” is a way to reproduce written material, usually on paper, by first forming upraised letters or other figures on small blocks called types. A printer arranges the types within a frame on a press to form words and then prints a page of writing. The types can be broken apart, moved around, and set to print other pages of writing. This process was first developed in China about A.D. 1040 when Pi Sheng made Chinese language characters on ceramic types.


To print an entire book, printers would have to make hundreds of precisely identical types for each letter. Someone had to invent a way to do this quickly.


Gutenberg used trial and error to adapt a coin-maker’s punch to make a mold for casting types, using just the right alloy of metals. This mold enabled him to mass-produce identical types for each letter of the Latin alphabet plus punctuation marks and symbols. He could reuse the types numerous times for different jobs.

Gutenberg also experimented with ink and paper. He needed ink that dried quickly and did not smear. After trying numerous ingredients, he found the perfect ink by combining linseed oil and lampblack. He also discovered that paper had to be a certain thickness and slightly dampened for the ink to stick properly. Finally, be built a press that applied the exact pressure needed to print words clearly from the types onto paper.


In 1450, he printed his first book, a brief Latin grammar for students. He may have printed a few other things such as church “indulgences.”


Gutenberg hired craftsmen to make the Latin letter types, construct six presses, and manufacture the ink. He also purchased paper for printing most of the Bibles and vellum for a small, more expensive edition.

In addition, he trained a team of men who, along with him, became Europe’s first movable-type printers. He passed on the secrets of his invention to his master printer, Peter Schoffer. He had been a scribe and was Fust’s adopted son.

Gutenberg took at least five years to manufacture the types and equipment and print nearly 200 Bibles. He used a type font called “black letter gothic,” which attempted to duplicate the look of the hand-copied Bibles. He grew obsessed with printing Bibles that would equal or exceed in accuracy and beauty those copied by scribes. The Gutenberg Bible consists of two columns of print on more than 1,000 pages. Unlike copies made by scribes, both columns are justified, aligned in a straight edge at the left and right margins, like the column of print you are reading right now.


Less than 50 years after Gutenberg printed the Bible, over 1,000 print shops had sprung up in more than 200 European cities and towns. They turned out more than 10 million copies of books in Latin and other European languages. Books became cheaper in price and available to anyone who could read them. Books were no longer chained in libraries


Gutenberg borrowed more money and continued printing. Around 1460, he printed a Bible with 36 lines per page. But he never got out of debt, never married, and was never acclaimed for his astounding invention during his lifetime. He died a poor and forgotten man in Mainz in 1468.


 Books began to appear for the first time with the author’s name on a title page. This made writers responsible for the content of their books, thus improving their accuracy. It also gave rise to the first copyright laws, protecting authors from having others publish their works without permission.


Printing was a highly competitive business. Printers were always trying to outdo each other with new ways to make their books more readable, attractive, and profitable. They produced books with title pages, tables of contents, numbered pages, indexes, and engravings of pictures, maps, and diagrams. They also began to use standard punctuation marks and broke down text into paragraphs.


Printing enabled scientists scattered throughout Europe to use the discoveries of others to speed their own investigations. Printed tables, charts, diagrams, and formulas eliminated the need for scientists to duplicate tiresome calculations.


Citation: "Gutenberg and the Printing Revolution in Europe - Constitutional Rights Foundation." BRIA 24 3 B Gutenberg and the Printing Revolution in Europe - Constitutional Rights Foundation. Consitutional Rights Foundation, n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2014. 




Key dates of Gutenberg

1400 Gutenberg is born in Mainz

1420s Gutenberg is in exile

1430 Gutenberg is allowed back to Mainz

1434 Gutenberg is settled in Strasbourg

1436-1437 Gutenberg is accused of broken promise of marriage

1439 Gutenberg is involved in a confidential production project

1448 Gutenberg borrows a large sum of money

1450s Gutenberg prints indulgences and other small texts

1454 At least part of Gutenberg's Bible is completed

1455 Gutenberg is in dispute with his financier

1468 Gutenberg is dead

1476 Caxton prints the first book in England

1828 George III's books, with his copy of the Bible come to the British (Museum) Library

1846 Th. Grenville leaves his library with his copy of the Bible, to the British (Museum) Library

2000 Keio University digitizes the British Library's copies of the Bible


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