“HOT OFF THE PRESSES”
THE PRINTING PRESS AND MOVABLE TYPE
Beginning 1455 AD
|The first page of Genesis from the Gutenberg Bible from the 1450’s/
Credit: Photo by Kathy Schick, courtesy of the Stone Age Institute. All rights reserved.
If we want to communicate with others, the first way we think of is talking, but if we want our words to go further, beyond the people we meet, what do we do? One way is to write it down, get it out, say what you have to say in a more lasting way. This wasn’t always possible, however. Writing things down has been relatively recent in human history, but getting the word out to many, many people is even more recent. The best way would seem be to mass produce written words, but this was not that easy at first and it took some time to develop.
The first movable type was invented nearly 1000 years ago in China (where paper had been invented earlier, about 2000 years ago), but proved very hard to use with the thousands of characters in the Chinese language, since each character would need its own tablet to represent the character. The early Chinese system used a ceramic tablet (though they experimented with wooden ones first), and one used in Korea a couple of hundred years later used a metal tablet for each character. At the same time in Europe, documents were either hand written and illustrated, or stamped out with carved wooden blocks (wood block printing), which took a lot of time and labor, especially to carve out the individual blocks.
Printing was revolutionized in Europe when Johannes Gutenberg, a German goldsmith, in the mid-1400’s invented movable type for printing and a system of making the huge quantities of metal letters needed by casting them in carved wooden molds. This type of printing was well suited to the letter or alphabet-based written languages in Europe, rather than the character-based languages in eastern Asia. Gutenberg’s first major work was the famous ‘Gutenberg Bible,’ printed in 1455, which make fine copies of the Bible available to large numbers of people. Soon afterward, printing presses spread over much of Europe, and the printing revolution had begun.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
The invention of the printing press quickly revolutionized the spread of ideas and information – through books, pamphlets, and eventually newspapers throughout the European world. It also helped lay the foundations of the scientific revolution, in helping disseminate new and older (ancient Greek and Roman) scientific findings. Books produced on printing presses made literature, philosophy, and political ideas available to a much broader public, and helped pave the way for ideas of the Enlightenment and social and political revolutions of the following centuries.
This is a webpage about the first printing presses, including information about the Gutenberg bible.
This is a timeline of the printing press and movable type.
This is a Wikipedia site about the history of printing.
This is a webpage about the history of printing from its earliest forms through movable type printing.
This is Gutenberg’s printing press, turning thought into typeset.
This video is about Gutenberg & The Impact of the Printing Press
This video is about printing and its impact on civilizations.