Who Was the European Inventor of Printing?
Yet, despite this evidence, the invention of printing with movable type is regarded as a European discovery of the 15th century, and ascribed to Johannes Gutenberg, a printer of Mainz, Germany.
There is still some mystery connected with this invention. Four names are mentioned whenever the discovery of printing is discussed. They are Johannes Gutenberg, Lourens Coster, Peter Schoffer, and Johannes Fust.
Historians did not agree for a long time on all the facts and theories, but in an effort to settle the dispute they decided to call Johannes Gutenberg the inventor of movable type, since his life was the best documented.
Gutenberg, born around 1400 in Mainz, was a printer who worked very diligently at his task of cutting letters into wooden blocks. At some time during the 1400’s, he conceived the idea of casting each letter as small block of metal.
No one knows whether he had heard of the Chinese and Korean systems, or if he took the idea from the Dutch printer, Lourens Coster, who may or may not have thought of the same method earlier.
Johannes Fust, and his son-in-law, Peter Schoffer, who were also printers and metal casters, financed Gutenberg. Because of this close association, experts advanced the names of all the three men as the actual inventors of movable type printing.
The printing press was based on existing screw presses. Gutenberg, a goldsmith by profession, developed a complete printing system, which perfected the printing process through all of its stages by adapting existing technologies to the printing purposes, as well as making groundbreaking inventions of his own.
His newly devised hand mould made for the first time possible the precise and rapid creation of metal movable type in large quantities, a key element in the profitability of the whole printing enterprise.
The printing press spread within several decades to over two hundred cities in a dozen European countries. By 1500, printing presses in operation throughout Western Europe had already produced more than twenty million volumes.
In the 16th century, with presses spreading further afield, their output raised tenfold to an estimated 150 to 200 million copies. The operation of a press became so synonymous with the enterprise of printing that it lent its name to an entire new branch of media, the press.
In Renaissance Europe, the arrival of mechanical movable type printing introduced the era of mass communication which permanently altered the structure of society: The relatively unrestricted circulation of information and (revolutionary) ideas transcended borders, captured the masses in the Reformation and threatened the power of political and religious authorities; the sharp increase in literacy broke the monopoly of the literate elite on education and learning and bolstered the emerging middle class.
Across Europe, the increasing cultural self-awareness of its peoples led to the rise of proto-nationalism, accelerated by the flowering of the European vernacular languages to the detriment of Latin’s status as lingua franca.
In the 19th century, the replacement of the hand-operated Gutenberg-style press by steam-powered rotary presses allowed printing on an industrial scale, while Western-style printing was adopted all over the world, becoming practically the sole medium for modern bulk printing.