Johannes Gutenberg and the Moveable Type Printing Press

c. 1450 A.D.

In 1450, perhaps the most significant historical event since the death of Christ occurred – Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. The Bible, specifically the Latin Vulgate, was the first book ever printed on a printing press.

Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg (c. 1398 – February 3, 1468) was a German goldsmith and printer who is credited with being the first European to use movable type printing, in around 1439, and the global inventor of the mechanical printing press. His major work, the Gutenberg Bible (also known as the 42-line Bible), has been acclaimed for its high aesthetic and technical quality.

Among the specific contributions to printing that are attributed to Gutenberg are the invention of a process for mass-producing movable type, the use of oil-based ink, and the use of a wooden printing press similar to the screw olive and wine presses of the period. His truly epochal invention was the combination of these elements into a practical system.

The use of movable type was a marked improvement on the handwritten manuscript, which was the existing method of book production in Europe, and upon woodblock printing, and revolutionized European book-making. Gutenberg’s printing technology spread rapidly throughout Europe and is considered a key factor in the European Renaissance. Gutenberg remains a towering figure in the popular image; in 1999, the A&E Network ranked Gutenberg #1 on their “People of the Millennium” countdown, and in 1997, Time–Life magazine picked Gutenberg’s invention as the most important of the second millennium.

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You can see a replica of the Gutenberg press at the Gadsden Cultural Arts Center as a part of the Ink & Blood Exhibit. There are daily demonstrations of the printing method and you will see (or even participate in) printing an actual replica page from a Bible of that time. The exhibit also includes pages from a Gutenberg Bible.


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