drawing of three men working on ancient printing press

"The Gutenberg printing press - invented in the 1440s by Johannes Gutenberg, a goldsmith from Mainz in Germany - is widely considered to be one of humanity's defining inventions."

Gutenberg discovered a flexible and efficient way to print any number of copies of books, by using letters fixed on a type block in order to be able to copy one page as many times as necessary, and then be able to switch the letters around for the next, completely different page. 

The precise and beautiful printing that was possible with his new method, helped him create famous bibles that rivaled the calligraphy of the monks. The crisp black Latin script is perfectly composed into two dense blocks of text, occasionally highlighted with a flourish of red ink.

ancient book opened to show text

"Actually, you can quibble with Gutenberg's place in history. The movable type press was originally developed in China. Even as Gutenberg was inventing in Germany, Koreans were ditching their entire method of writing to make printing easier, cutting tens of thousands of characters down to only 28. It is also not true that Gutenberg single-handedly created mass literacy. It was common 600 or 700 years earlier in the Abbasid Caliphate, spanning the Middle East and North Africa.

Still, the Gutenberg press did change the world. It led to Europe's reformation, science, the newspaper, the novel, the school textbook, and much else. But it could not have done so without another invention, just as essential but much more often overlooked: paper."

Original article written by: Tim Harford

Source: BBC