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The Printing Press

Posted by: | September 28, 2009 | No Comment |

         Johannes Gutenberg                                            Printing Press

Johannes Gutenberg gets the majority of the credit for inventing the printing press.

The German goldsmith built the first printing press in 1440 . It should also be noted, however, that the Chinese played a vital role in the development of this ground-breaking machine.

Almost 300 years before Gutenberg put the finishing touches on his printing press, a Chinese artisan used moveable type to print. One of the most revolutionary developments in the history of journalism, this invention wasn’t as big of a success as it should have been at the time.

A Chinese artisan named Pi Sheng, not the more-revered Gutenberg, is credited with being the first person to have ever used moveable type to print.  Unfortunately for Sheng, the immensity of the Chinese alphabet made his system impracticable.

Gutenberg knew how successful moveable type could be, though. He began working on the printing press in 1436. His assistants, Andreas Dritzehn and Andreas Heilmann, are far less heralded, but both were pivotal in Gutenberg’s project. The former had knowledge in gem-cutting. The latter, an owner of a paper-mill, had a unique expertise.

It took time before the full power of the printing press was felt throughout European society because a lack of literacy limited the readership of printed news. According to our text book, by 1688 only 40% of adult males in England could read. Renaissance rulers took advantage of the opportunity to publish their news more widely.

The development of the printing press coincides directly with the initiation of the “Information Age.” The telegraph and radio also fueled the information age, but they didn’t play as big a role as the printing press did. 

As Mitchell Stephens’ textbook states: “No invention changed the amount of information available to humankind as radically as that nonelectric, hand-operated machine that arrived in Europe in the 15th century: the printing press.”

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