A printing press is a device which aids in printing by transferring ink from one surface to another medium. The first printing press with metallic moveable type was developed amidst the Renaissance by a German inventor named Johannes Gutenberg. Though other methods of printing existed prior to Gutenberg’s press, this invention enabled mass production of books, as it did not require a person copying the words by hand or using other tedious methods.
Gutenberg’s printing press was likely formatted from a papermaking press. It worked by having two types of metal, a hard metal and a soft, striking each other. The hard metal had the shape of a letter, but mirrored so that when it pressed against the soft metal, it created an impression of the letter. Following this, a liquified alloy was poured into the soft metal mold. Once the alloy dried, the letters were formed. The moveable type then mechanically transferred ink to paper using a “wine press screw mechanism” (Alley-Young 2015).
Johannes Gutenberg had the knowledge to create the press as a result of his personal history. Growing up in Mainz, the majority of his father’s family were skilled metalworkers, and Gutenberg followed suit. He began to develop his innovative printing press sometime between 1428 and 1448, when it was officially completed.
By 1452, Gutenberg had borrowed enough money to create the first mass-produced book: the Gutenberg Bible. His two-volume Bible allowed average people to read the word of God, thus beginning the Protestant Reformation. There were approximately 180 copies printed at the time and 48 are believed to be intact today. Each Bible was made carefully, beautifully, and expensively. The cost of one book was equivalent to the three times the yearly salary of a clerk at the time.
Gutenberg’s intention was to keep his printing press a secret, but this did not happen. Within approximately 50 years, a press was present in 2,500 European cities. Gutenberg’s device led to the development of books as the first mass medium and a subsequent cultural revolution. This is because the printing press combined three essential elements: it eliminated the necessity of scribes, it sped up the process of duplicating texts, and it made books more affordable as a result of their ability to be produced in higher quantities (Campbell, Martin, and Fabos 2014).
The press had a lasting impact on the world, as it was the beginning of connectivity beyond an immediate location. People now had access to a vast array of information that only continued to expand as books became increasingly inexpensive and common. Following books, there were newspapers, which further contributed to the connectivity. As the printing press continued to evolve, the amount and variety of information available to the common person grew greatly, leading to the modern-day obtainability.
Johannes Gutenberg and his business partners single-handedly created the Print Revolution, and promoted the ideal of individualism. The printing press has impacted many aspects of daily life and contemporary knowledge through his contribution to the world of communications.
Alley-Young, G. P. (2015). Printing Press. Salem Press Encyclopedia. Ipswich, MA: Salem Press.
Campbell, R., Martin, C. R., & Fabos, B. (2014). Media & Culture: Mass Communication in a Digital Age (6-7). Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Gould, K. (2013). Johannes Gutenberg. Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia. Ipswich, MA: Salem Press.
Image Attribution: The image used in this post is in the Public Domain
Written by Tedi Rollins, 2017