Which Famous Person Invented Printing?

Johannes Gutenberg invented his printing press in the mid-15th century.
... Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The most famous person associated with the invention of printing, at least in Western culture, is the German engraver, metalsmith and printmaker Johannes Gutenberg, whose printing press sparked a historic publishing revolution. However, the Gutenberg press first used in the Rhineland city of Mainz was not the first printing device.

1 Johannes Gutenberg

Gutenberg is widely acknowledged as the inventor of the modern printing machine. Gutenberg created a press, akin to an olive or wine press through which it was possible to print text by arranging metallic letters that had been fabricated in a mold. The first press was operated by hand and later was powered by an early sort of steam engine. The most celebrated of his his early printed books, known as the Gutenberg Bible, was first typeset and finished in 1454.

2 Printing Before Gutenberg

Historians have called attention to a number of other people who could also be considered inventors of printing. For example, an 11th-century Chinese inventor named Bi Sheng created the first movable-type printing machine, with reusable characters made out of baked clay arranged in an iron frame. In 1377, almost a century before Gutenberg, a book of Buddhist teachings was printed in Korea on a machine using metal movable type.

3 Gutenberg's Claim to Fame

While Gutenberg was arguably not the first person to have made a printing machine, there are several reasons why he continues to be celebrated as the inventor of modern printing. Besides being the first to cast letters in standardized metallic molds and creating a innovative printing press, Gutenberg also set in motion the widespread dissemination of printing technology in Europe.

John Green is an attorney who has been writing on legal, business and media matters for more than 20 years. He has also taught law school and business courses in entrepreneurship, business enterprise, tax and ethics. Green received his J.D. from Yale Law School and his Ph.D. in religion from Duke.