Invention of the Printing PressCirca 1440 AD | Johannes Gutenberg 1400-1468 AD

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The transition from handwritten manuscripts to printed books marks a crucial turning point in the history of speech, or reason, and politics. The ease and affordability of reproducing written work with the mechanical printing press that Johannes Gutenberg invented, or at least perfected, in the fifteenth century Holy Roman Empire, dramatically expanded the audience that an author could reach. Book reading was no longer the exclusive province of the privileged few who were rich enough to afford to buy hand-copied scrolls and codices, which were difficult to produce and therefore scarce and expensive. The result was the rapid proliferation of reading among previous excluded classes, and an enormous increase in the influence of single talented authors over society. It was not long before the two predominant authorities in the western world, the church and the state, responded to this new rival influence with measures to regulate and control presses.



Gutenberg Bible

Images of all 1,282 pages of Gutenburg’s original two volume Bible are available at Gutenberg Digital.

See the Bible here.



Gutenberg’s Lawsuit

A high resolution image of the record of a lawsuit against Gutenberg in 1455 by Johann Fust, an original investor in Gutenberg’s press, is available with an English translation and commentary at Gutenberg Digital. This record is the principal evidence of Gutenberg’s responsibility for inventing the modern printing press as well as of the date of its invention. Click on the link “view the whole document” to see translations of each section of the document.

Read the lawsuit here.



Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. 2nd Ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

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Crompton, Samuel Willard. The Printing Press. Transforming Power of Technology. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.

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Thompson, Susan. “Paper Manufacturing and Early Books”, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 314, no. 1 (1978): 167–176.

Offers a brief early history of paper production and printing methods.

Find it at Wiley Online.