The printing press was invented in 1448 by German goldsmith Johann Gutenberg. Because it allowed books to be mass-produced and made available to the general population, the invention changed the course of history in many ways.

Johann Gutenberg

Gutenberg was a goldsmith, metallurgist and stone cutter living in Germany. His business had been struggling, and he was looking for a new way to make money. Using his knowledge of metals, he came up with an alloy of lead, tin and antimony that could be melted and formed easily to make blocks of type and letters. He also created the ink and adapted a wine press that enabled him to slide paper in and out of the machine easily. His first project was the printing of 200 Bibles, known as the Gutenberg Bibles. He sold out immediately and the printing business was born.

The Impact of the Printed Word

In the centuries before the printing press, books were handwritten by trained scribes. Thus, books were inordinately expensive to create and only available to the rich. Knowledge was closely controlled by those who could afford, or who had access to, books. Often knowledge was controlled by the church, which had the resources to pay scribes and could decide was being written. Once books were readily available to the average person, literacy increased and the power of the church began to be decentralized.

Standardization of Knowledge

The technique of the printing press spread rapidly. Fifty years after the Gutenberg Bibles, there were 2500 presses operating throughout Europe. With so many books being printed, information was being shared at an unprecedented rate. Maps, facts and history could all be recorded accurately and rapidly, leading to an explosion of scientific knowledge, as scientists could pool their information to advance their understanding of the world.

Far Reaching Effects

In addition to books, newspapers and other periodicals began to be printed. This created communities that could share information and common interests. The written word was able to advance new ideas, bring people together and sometimes keep government power in check. The printing press itself, with its movable, interchangeable parts, set the stage for many other tools and machines that could mass-produce new products. Because of its breakthroughs in manufacturing and its ability to spread knowledge, the printing press truly ushered in the modern world.