Johann Gutenberg

Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg was born in Mainz, Germany on ca. June 24, 1398 as the youngest son of a patrician (aristocrat) family of Friele Gensfleisch zur Laden and his second wife Else Wyrich. In 1411 they migrated to Strassburg for political reasons because of an uprising against the patricians. Gutenberg studied at the University of Erfurt, Erfurt, Germany. He was a goldsmith and a printer who introduced modern book printing.

Gutenberg invented a method of printing from movable type in the mid-1400s which was used without significant change until the 20th century as the so-called letterpress printing process. The elements of his invention consisted of a mold, with punch-stamped matrices (metal prisms used to mold the face of the type) with which type could be case precisely and in large quantities; a type-metal alloy (lead, tin, antimony); a new press and a smudge-resistant oil-based ink (lampblack, turpentine, linseed-oil, and egg-whites). None of these features existed in the earlier printing methods.

In 1455 Gutenberg published his 42-line Bible, commonly known as the Gutenberg Bible. About 180 were printed, most on paper and some on vellum. The printing technology spread quickly and news and books began to travel across Europe much faster than before with enormous impact on Western Civilization. Because of the significantly increasing demand for printing material, Gutenberg’s invention hugely stimulated the growth of paper mills all over Europe.

Typographic printing is a European invention. The Chinese and the Koreans came the nearest to developing this form of printing, by 1040 and by 1300, respectively, but did not progress beyond primitive sand casting of their characters which did not lend themselves to mass production techniques. The lack of an alphabet of a limited number of letters made the mass production of types impractical.

Gutenberg died in Mainz, Germany, on February 3, 1468.