The First Printing Press: A Transformative Invention

As many of you learned in school, Johanes Gutenberg was the inventor of the printing press, an innovation he made around 1440. While many students remember this fact, they don’t always understand the broad impacts of the printing press on global society. Gutenberg’s invention transformed the world because it started the “Printing Revolution” in Europe, a period of cultural, social, and religious change due to the availability of printed texts. It also led to the modern age by making the Renaissance, Age of Enlightenment, and scientific progress possible.

Printing Presses Expand Throughout Europe

After his printing press showed its capabilities at creating books and manuscripts, Gutenberg aided in the expansion of its use throughout Europe. German printers went to Spain and Portugal to train others, and the device arrived in England in 1476. Gutenberg’s original design was adopted by countless printers, who continued his legacy by adopting new techniques and materials to improve the printing press. As usage expanded in Europe, the availability of printed materials soon transformed societies, causing some to question the Catholic church’s hold on society, and exploring other non-religious topics such as science and philosophy.

Describing the Invention

Gutenberg was the first European to use movable type, a system where different blocks and pieces are movable to enable the production of different pieces of content. His printing press was the first to use pressure applied to a surface covered with ink that was then applied against paper, which then transferred the ink to the paper in a uniform and fast manner. Gutenberg also created a new way of mass production for movable type and built adjustable molds which gave printers more options to create texts. He developed his own oil-based ink which stuck to metal instead of wood, so it would perform properly with the metal type molds. Another of his achievements was to use a winepress to flatten paper, which made it more uniform and usable within the printing press.

His key contribution was combining these various inventions and processes together into a system that would enable mass-produced books at a scale and a cost that was appealing for everyone involved.

The Gutenberg Bible

Gutenberg further refined his press for years, and in 1452 reproduced a version of the Bible known as the Gutenberg Bible. He created around 180 copies of this Bible, using more than 300 custom-molded letter blocks and approximately 50,000 sheets of paper to complete every 1,300-paged book. These were the earliest books produced in Europe using Gutenberg’s movable metal type innovation. It’s a historically significant book that’s highly valued for its aesthetic beauty, with around 50 copies remaining in existence. The books feature Gutenberg’s oil-based ink that had several metals such as copper and titanium that gave the writing a shiny and durable finish.

The history of the printing press continues today, with presses throughout the world producing billions of books, magazines, and newspapers. For the office, our company Image Source offers innovative printing solutions as well, including a lineup of professional Xerox printers. Click here to learn more.


Featured Photo: By Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki – DANIEL CHODOWIECKI 62 bisher unveröffentlichte Handzeichnungen zu dem Elementarwerk von Johann Bernhard Basedow. Mit einem Vorworte von Max von Boehn. Voigtländer-Tetzner, Frankfurt am Main 1922. (self scanned from book), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17927966