“Johann Gutenberg and the Impact of the Printing Press”
Johann Gutenberg is credited for the invention of the printing press, a monumental advancement in technology that changed the world forever. It has been regarded as, “one of the most important inventions in the history of humankind.” What was once a tedious process, became a fast, easy, and cheap way to produce great quantities of books. It granted public access to a wealth of knowledge never seen before. Rapid spread of ideas was the catalyst of social and cultural revolutions, the consequences of which are still apparent today. The printing press can be thought of as the internet of the 15th century, a facilitative mechanism of social, economic, scientific, and religious. Hypothetically speaking, if the printing press was never invented, it is possible that there would be no Renaissance, religious reformation, or scientific and intellectual revolution, and thus there wouldn’t be a modern world as we know it.
Before the implications of the printing press can be understood, it is important to consider what life was like before the printing revolution. All writing and illustrations were the work of an individual slaving over the text to write it by hand. Not just any old peasant could do the tedious work of a scribe, most of them lived and worked in monasteries, where they would silently and diligently copy the text with utmost precision. Since transcribing was such a cumbersome task, books were generally owned by monasteries, educational institutions, and well-to-do aristocrats. If a family was lucky enough to have owned a book, it would have most likely been a bible, for religious texts were most commonly transcribed.
Although transcription of texts by scribes was the mode of producing books, rudimentary systems and parts of the printing press already existed at that time. The press itself, which is often incorrectly attributed to Gutenberg, was already in use in the process of making wine and olive oil. Paper too had been in circulation for about a hundred years. Indeed, the printing press had already surfaced in China, Korea, and Japan. These countries employed wooden blocks for printing, albeit the unduly number of characters rendered the process nearly futile and very expensive.
If the printing press was already in use, the remaining question is what exactly did Gutenberg invent. Although there is variation amongst scholars, Gutenberg is considered to be responsible for incorporating five tools into one master machine; paper, a movable type, metallurgy, presses, and inks. The challenge lay in how to piece it together. His solution was to adapt a wine press that employed movable blocks covered in ink. The press transferred the ink from the blocks to the paper. To make the block, he used a punch to create an impression in a metal, poured liquefied lead into the furrow, and removed the outer cast, leaving a single letter. In contrast to the Chinese model, he employed metal blocks...