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Johannes Gutenberg
Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg

c. 1398
Mainz, Electorate of Mainz in the Holy Roman Empire
Died February 3, 1468 (aged about 68)
Mainz, Electorate of Mainz in the Holy Roman Empire
Occupation Engraver, inventor, and printer
Known for The invention of the movable-type printing press

Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg (c. 1398 – February 3, 1468) was a German blacksmith, goldsmith, printer, and publisher who introduced printing to Europe with the printing press. His introduction of mechanical movable type printing to Europe started the Printing Revolution. It is believed that his invention of the movable type printing press brought in the modern period of human history.

Gutenberg's printing press

In 1439, Gutenberg was the first European to use movable type. He used oil-based ink, adjustable molds, mechanical movable type, and a wooden printing press. He invented a process for mass-producing movable type, which sped up the process of printing books. Gutenberg's printing technology spread rapidly throughout Europe and later the world.

Before Gutenberg's printing press, books had to be handwritten, making them time-consuming to make and expensive to buy. Only the wealthy could afford to buy books. His invention allowed him to produce many books for less money, allowing a greater number of people to afford to buy books. This greatly increased literacy among the middle class, allowing more people to be educated.

Gutenberg's press was important in the development of the Renaissance, Reformation, the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific revolution. His major work, the Gutenberg Bible (also known as the 42-line Bible), has been praised for both its technical quality and beauty.

Johannes Gutenberg, Tours
Bust of Johannes Gutenberg, in Tours, France

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 only way to print in bulk.

Later life

Gutenberg Bible 1952 Issue-3c
United States Postal Service stamp commemorates Johannes Gutenberg from 1452 to 1952

In 1462, during the devastating Mainz Diocesan Feud, Mainz was sacked by archbishop Adolph von Nassau, and Gutenberg was exiled. An old man by now, he moved to Eltville.

In January 1465, Gutenberg's achievements were recognized, and he was given the title Hofmann (gentleman of the court) by von Nassau. This honor included a stipend, as well as 4806 pounds of grain and 528 pounds of wine, tax-free. He may have moved back to Mainz around this time, but this is not certain.

Gutenberg died in 1468 and was buried in the Franciscan church at Mainz. This church and the cemetery were later destroyed, and Gutenberg's grave is now lost.

Weitensfeld Zammelsberg Dichtersteinhain Gedenktafel fuer Johannes Gutenberg 1313
Memorial plaque for Johannes Gutenberg Zammelsberg

In 1504, he was mentioned as the inventor of typography in a book by Professor Ivo Wittig. It was not until 1567 that the first portrait of Gutenberg, probably an imaginary reconstruction, appeared in Heinrich Pantaleon's biography of famous Germans.

Regarded as one of the most influential people in human history, Gutenberg remains an important figure. In 1999, the A&E Network ranked Gutenberg the Number 1 most influential person of the second millennium on their "Biographies of the Millennium" countdown. In 1997, Time–Life picked Gutenberg's invention as the most important of the second millennium.

Johannes Gutenberg quotes

  • "Give me twenty-six soldiers of lead and I will conquer the world."
  • "It is a press, certainly, but a press from which shall flow in inexhaustible streams. Through it, God will spread His Word."
  • "Religious truth is captive in a small number of manuscript books, which guard the common treasure, instead of diffusing it. Let us break the seal which holds the holy things; give wings to the truth that by means of speech, no longer written at great expense by the hand that wearies itself, but multiplied as the air by an unwearied machine, it may fly to seek every soul born into the world!"

Interesting facts about Johannes Gutenberg

  • Friele Gensfleish, Gutenberg's father, worked in the Mainz mint, and Johannes probably grew up learning how coins were made.
  • Johannes had a brother and sister named Friele and Else. He also had a half-sister from his father’s first marriage named Patze.
  • A patrician woman named Ellewibel zur Isernin Thure accused Gutenberg of breaking a promise of marrying her daughter, Ennelin.
  • Only 49 copies of the Gutenberg Bible have survived to today.
  • The last sale of a complete Gutenberg Bible took place in 1978, selling for $2.2 million.
  • Experts now estimate a complete copy could be sold for $35 million at auction.

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See also

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