The printing press changed the world, drastically. Once the every day commoner got his hands on the ability to spread his knowledge, the citizen became the scholar and world order was upended. In a previous blog post, we discussed the invention of the printing press by the Chinese which at that time used block printing to produce text. Gutenberg capitalized on these methods, modernized them, and created what we call the printing press in today’s society. This enhanced invention can be attributed to revolutions, the rise and fall of the powerful, and spreading knowledge across empires.
Gutenberg’s contributions to printing happened as if by chance. The political climate in in the 1400’s gave free thinkers the ability to capitalize on invention that had previously been subdued. The Renaissance brought thought to light and Gutenberg was able to spread this to the masses. As a goldsmith, Gutenberg used his knowledge of metals to help perfect his craft. He replaced the wood block press with metal and instead of using printing blocks, he used individual letters, giving us movable type. “Gutenberg’s process would not have worked as seamlessly as it did if he had not made his own ink, devised to affix to metal rather than wood. Gutenberg was also able to perfect a method for flattening printing paper for use by using a winepress, traditionally used to press grapes for wine and olives for oil, retrofitted into his printing press design.” (history.com) Essentially, he took other forms of invention and craft and pieced them together to modernize print.
Gutenberg began working on his press in approximately 1436. In less than 100 years, the press was being used across all of Europe. By 1480, 110 different places in Germany, Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Bohemia, and Poland had active printers. “By 1500, the printing presses in operation throughout Western Europe had already produced more than twenty million copies. In the following century, their output rose tenfold to an estimated 150 to 200 million copies. European printing presses of around 1600 were capable of producing about 1,500 impressions per workday. By comparison, book printing in East Asia did not use presses and was solely done by block printing.” Due to the press, being an author had suddenly become profitable. Additionally, those who had previously been unheard, now had the ability to share their voice with the masses.
Thanks to Gutenberg and his industrialization of print mechanics, media became its own form of literature. This in turn spread knowledge worldwide and helped modernize and shape the world as it is known today.