Gutenberg’s Revolutionary Discovery Factors
As information has already been conceived as a vital source of knowledge, Gutenberg’s discovery of the printing press indeed was the spark that flamed the information revolution continuing to this very day. Born between 1394 and 1399, Johann (or Johannes in some sources) Gensfleisch zum Gutenberg was a goldsmith in Mainz, Germany. He began experimenting with printing work towards 1440 when he was a political exile at Strasbourg. The idea of the printing press first occurred to Johann Gutenberg while he was watching a winepress operating. He had long pondered how to achieve quicker book production; the current method was to carve words laboriously on blocks and then to rub paper against them. The winepress suggested the idea of transferring an image to paper by pressing an inked lead seal against it.
At that time other people too were engaged in discovering some method of producing an “artificial script”, as it was called. Avignon, Bruges and Bologna are mentioned as places where such experiments were carried out, and the names of a goldsmith and a book illuminator who thus tried their hands at printing. The general climate of the age was undoubtedly advantageous for Gutenberg’s achievement. He returned to Mainz between 1444 and 1448 and by 1450 had perfected his invention far enough to exploit it commercially. For this purpose, he borrowed 800 guilders from the Mainz lawyer, Johannes Fust. In 1452, Fust advanced another 800 guilders and at the same time secured for himself a partnership in the “production of books”.
In 1455, however, the financier foreclosed on the inventor. The bulk of Gutenberg’s presses and types went to Peter Schoffer of Gernsheim, who was in Fust’s service and later married his daughter (and her dowry). Another printer of unknown name obtained a number of inferior types with which he printed calendars, papal bulls, Latin grammars, and similar works. However, the next year, in 1453, Gutenberg successfully published 180 copies of his famous Bible and his new printing method that quickly spread across Europe.
Only 30 years after Gutenberg’s Bible appeared, there were printing presses in more than 110 towns in Western Europe alone. The total increase in the number of books available in Europe is impossible to calculate, but it is probably safe to say that by 1500 there were hundreds of times more books available than in 1450. As books proliferated, their cost went down. Although still expensive, books were no longer the exclusive possession of the very rich. The printed book could now be afforded by those who were simply relatively prosperous. The consequences of the printing revolution are so far-reaching and extensive that it is impossible to discuss all of them. Most scholars seem to agree, however, on the most significant results.
Ultimately, the most important impact of the invention of printing press is its profound effect on the growth of scholarship and knowledge. Today, the Internet would not have appeared if not for the first mass-produced Bible that quickly made knowledge available to the common man. It should be noted that access to handwritten textbooks was difficult during their time; university students now can easily avail printed texts. Think about how hard it would be to study subjects when everybody in the class had to use just one textbook. As the number of books increased, so did the number of students who studied at universities.
Literacy increased further and interest in the classical works of Greece and Rome was revived as they appeared in printed books that were read by many. Books based on the scholarship of other countries also appeared. The advances in mathematics made by the Indians, Muslims, and Arabs were disseminated. Since knowledge in the Renaissance and Reformation was influenced by philosophers and thinkers who shared their knowledge through books, Gutenberg’s invention had been instrumental in spreading their thoughts through mass-produced books. Thus, we can say that without Gutenberg’s invention of the moveable metal print type, the Renaissance and the Reformation might not have occurred.