Salt Lake Mailing & Printing Blog

History of the Printing Press

old printing type

The printing press is one invention that has forever changed the world.  The ability to mass print books and other documents has lead to an increase in knowledge and education, which has led to many of the inventions and technologies that shape our world today.

Before the printing press was invented, every book or document had to be copied by hand.  Most of these copies were made by scribes or monks, who took great pride in their work.  However, it was also an extremely slow work, which meant that books were rare and not typically owned by the common man. All this changed with the creation of the printing press.

The printing press is the brainchild of Johannes Gutenberg. Originally a goldsmith from the southern Germany town of Mainz, Gutenberg was a businessman with a vision. He was familiar with the screw-type wine presses that had been previously developed in the Rhine Valley. Seeing potential in the overall idea, Gutenberg took out a loan in the 1430s to develop a new prototype of a printing press.

The biggest idea behind Gutenberg’s press was a hand-made mold.  This mold allowed the rapid creation of metal movable type – the ability of the letters to be pressed onto paper that had been inked, then have that paper removed in order to reveal the next piece of inked paper.

The actual date of the invention of the printing press varies according to the source, though the first version is dated to as early as 1436. The first printing press, as well as its future incantations, quickly spread throughout the continent. By the 1500s, there were printing presses operating throughout Western Europe and the number of books printed was over 20 million. The technology continued to spread around the world and the number of books printed had risen to over 150 million by the 1600s.

As the number of books rose, the prices of books dropped.  This meant that books went from being a luxury item that only the rich and mighty could afford to something that the common man could afford to have in his home. As more and more people gained access to books, the level of education among the common man grew, which led to a spike in inventive technologies.

Along with changing the world of education, Gutenberg changed the world of religion when he decided to print the Bible.  The mass production of the Bible meant that the common man did not depend on their religious leaders to tell them what the Bible said – they could afford their own copy and read it for themselves.

While the continued development in printing technologies have made the original printing press obsolete, the original ideas and inspiration have made a huge mark on our world.

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