Gutenberg, Johann

The German pioneer of printing with movable type, Johann Gutenberg is believed to have been born in Mainz, Germany in the year 1400. Very limited documentation exists, which give accurate accounts of his life and of these there are only three, which refer to printing.

As a young man Gutenberg worked as a goldsmith and gem cutter and had learned about metallurgy. He first devised type that would space evenly on a page and also look pleasing to the eye. From 1430 he experimented in Strasbourg with metal types. His first type was cast of the metals lead, antimony, and tin and consisted of two hundred and ninety separate symbols.

He further had to discover ink that would not fade or be too thick. He ended up with the combination of boiled linseed oil and soot. He then modified a wine press for his printing purpose, which was waste high and had a rolling tray so that he could slide the paper in and out. The press would also allow him to squeeze excess water out of the damp paper while printing at the same time.

The 1,282 pages Gutenberg Bible, which was printed in 1455 was the first Bible (in Latin) ever printed and the first book ever to be printed in the western hemisphere. He printed two hundred copies of this Bible, which became known as a 36-line Bible for the number of lines it had per page.

Gutenberg’s printing device was the cause of many religious upheavals at it allowed the common man to posses a Bible for his own interpretation. It allowed knowledge and ideas to be passed from one man to the other and paved the way for schools and the media. No other episode in the history of mankind has influenced them more that the development of the printing press invented by Gutenberg.

Gutenberg ultimately lost possession of all his printing equipment after a legal dispute with his partner. By 1500 there were 1,700 printing presses in Europe. Gutenberg died bankrupt in relative anonymity.