The Man Behind the Press

Biography of Johann Gutenberg

Johann Gutenberg

Upon his father's death in 1419, Johann Gutenberg was already coming of age, nearly 20 years old. His birth is still uncertain, but he was born probably between 1394 and 1404 due to the fact that his invention in 1440 sparked numerous celebrations across Germany. Gutenberg scholar and mayor of Mainz, Germany Karl Dziatzko had an idea to name the year 1900 to celebrate Gutenberg's 500th birthday.

June 24 was the day that was chosen for the annual celebration because that was the day of the Feast of St. John the Baptist. So according to ancient German records, Johann Gutenberg was born on June 24, 1400. In terms of his early education, there is not enough information, but his parents made sure that he attended one of Main'z best institutions throughout his educatuional career.

How Mirrors Provided Inspiration For The Press

In Aachen, another city in Germany, the year was 1432 and the word around town was that a convex mirror could capture the healing powers of the holy entities. The demand for this small piece of polished metal was so great that nearly 10,000 people made requests every day for two weeks.To help with this great demand, Gutenberg decided he would mass-produce mirrors for the Aachen pilgrimmage in 1439, but there were two problems:

The question is, what do mirrors have to do with printing? One can be certain that there is some sort of relationship between the procedures of making mirrors and priting books, according to Man. What was certain is that both needed a press.

During this time, it was clear that Gutenberg was working on some sort of press, the fact that he was working on a printing press is pure speculation. His business partners in 1438 included Hans Riffe, who helped finance the mirror production for the pilgrimmage, Andreas Dritzehn and Andreas Heilmann. Despite a horrible lawsuit against Gutenberg that left him searching for finances, the court ruled that he was allowed to pursue his project.

The History of Movable Type

To uderstand the innovation of movable type, we have to travel to the late 10th century back to China where where paper and printing were invented. Pi Sheng is credited to inventing movable type. Sheng decided to use letters that were cut from wet clay as a way to begin printing. The letters were heated, placed in a frame, inked and rubbed with paper or cloth, according to Man.

This same procedure was used to create metal letters, and after several experiements with wood, copper, tin, broze and lead, a collection of thin stamps could be arranged so rubbing could take place. There was only one setback, until that time, no machine could manage thousands of characters until a more complex press was developed later that century. This problem obviously could not be solved by the Chinese because of their complicated writing system, and that's why the Chinese couyld have never invented a printing press. Despite the Chinese in their unsuccesful attempts, the Mongolians in the middle of the thirteenth century had thrtee necessary elements for the development of the Western form of printing: paper, movable type and an alphabet. The Mongolians never regarded these ideas and were limited for they didn't have a system of written literature that could have assisted them in furthering the progression of printed words. Many other Eastern countires had insight that contributed to the history of printing, but these countries were still lacking in several elements that Gutenberg needed for his invention.

What Eastern Countries Missed in terms of Printing