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Johannes Gutenberg
Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg

c. 1400
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. 1400 – 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 and is considered a milestone of the second millennium, which brought in the modern period of human history.

The printing press played a key role in the development of the Renaissance, Reformation, the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific revolution. It began the modern knowledge-based economy and the spread of learning to the masses.

In 1439, Gutenberg was the first European to use movable type (letters, numbers, and punctuation on a page). Among his many contributions to printing are: the invention of a process for mass-producing movable type; the use of oil-based ink for printing books; adjustable molds; mechanical movable type; and the use of a wooden printing press.

His best invention was the Gutenberg press: a combination of these ideas that made a quick and inexpensive way to produce printed books. The use of movable type improved upon handwritten manuscripts and woodblock printing, which produced 40 - 50 pages per day. His press could produce thousands of pages per day. Gutenberg's printing technology spread quickly throughout Europe and later the world.

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

In Renaissance Europe, the new idea of mechanical movable-type printing changed society. Before this time, only the rich could afford books and education. Because of the invention and use of the printing press, almost anyone could learn to read and write, which opened doors for regular people to accomplish more for themselves. A new class of people called the middle class began to form.

In the 19th century, steam-powered rotary presses replaced the hand-operated Gutenberg-style press, which allowed printing on an industrial scale. It became practically the only way that modern bulk printing was done.

His major work, the Gutenberg Bible (also known as the 42-line Bible), has been praised for both its beauty and technical quality. It could take up to a year for a priest to handwrite a Bible, and Gutenberg's press changed this.

Later Life

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

In 1462, during the Mainz Diocesan Feud, Mainz was sacked by archbishop Adolph von Nassau, and as an old man, Gutenberg was exiled. He moved to Eltville.

In January 1465, von Nassau recognized Gutenberg's achievements and gave him the title Hofmann (gentleman of the court), a yearly salary, and other things like grain and wine. It is believed 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. He was not famous at this time. 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, Professor Ivo Wittig mentioned him as the inventor of typography in a book. In 1567, the first portrait of Gutenberg, which is thought to have been made from someone's imagination, appeared in Heinrich Pantaleon's biography of famous Germans.

Gutenberg is remembered as one of the most influential people in human history. 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 magazine chose Gutenberg's invention as the most important of the second millennium.

Interesting facts about Johannes Gutenberg

  • Gutenberg originally printed over 200 copies of the Bible. There are 22 copies left.
  • He was a member of the Strasbourg militia.
  • Before he invented the printing press, he lost money selling metal mirrors.
  • A rich woman named Ellewibel zur Isernin Thure accused Gutenberg of breaking a promise of marrying her daughter, Ennelin.
  • Because his father was a manager at a mint, Johannes probably grew up knowing how coins are made.
  • Gutenberg also worked in the jewelry industry, cutting gems.
  • Experts estimate that a Gutenberg Bible could sell for $35 million at an auction.

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