Johannes Gutenberg and the Printing Press (by Francesco Loli)

Johannes Gutenberg and the Printing Press (by Francesco Loli)

There are thousands upon thousands of books at any university library. Some of those books are newer than others; some are thicker; some are about history, geography, economics, or engineering. Not every book is in English, rather some are in Spanish or other foreign languages. No matter the type of book, it took just a couple hours to print them. It is incredible to think how it is possible to have so many books available for us, and we can have access anytime we want.

Many centuries ago books were very different from modern books. In fact, the earliest books were written on scrolls. In the Middle Age, books were produced by monks who copied them with pen and ink to study them later. Even a small book with just less than hundred pages could have taken several weeks or maybe months to be completed. A longer book, such as the Bible, could have taken years to copy.

This tedious and exhausting process ended in 1444. A man from Germany named Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, which made possible for people to have copies of books in much lesser time than they were used to. The invention of the printing press was one of most notable inventions from the last millennium because it brought very important changes and accomplishments in the whole world that we can still see now.

The invention of the printing press cut the costs of books and multiplied the output. Kreis (2000) reports that in consequence of this cost cut, information was available to a larger group of the world who were excited about learning and accessing to a great variety of information. Moreover, with the invention of printing press, libraries were capable to store so much greater information, and the cost to access it was much cheaper (Kreis, 2000).

In addition, Kreis (2000) reports that the most important progress of science, technology and scholarship is to spread knowledge in a very fast way, and to preserve it. The invention of the printing press started the “information revolution”, and it is similar to the invention of the internet. Therefore, printing allowed the dissemination of innovative ideas quickly and with a much greater impact.

Another achievement that the printing press brought was that it encouraged people to educate. People did not have access to books or did not have the chance to have formal education. Furthermore, according to Kreis (2000), the fact that they can get an education impacted deeply on their private lives. Besides, even though the first printed books were of religious subjects, people bought books of different subjects that they could use in their professions and occupations. Printed books made progress in science and research more accurate and faster (Kreis, 2000).

Moreover, according to Kapr (1996), printing gives to intelligent children, especially from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds, the opportunity to discover a new world of knowledge. Thus, they are given a source of education and culture. Education of the mass helps democratization because “at least the ruling elite are constrained to take public opinion into account in reaching their decision” (289).

The invention of the printing press brought the end of a long evolution communication. According to The DBQ project (2005), in the beginning of humankind, people might have spoken a kind of sign language. Then, people communicated with pictures on caves. Then, in Egypt, people used Hieroglyphics on papyrus till the invention of the alphabet. Thus, the printing press closed the circle of the evolution of communication (The DBQ project, 2005).

The printing press allowed records to be preserved for longer time. According to Barker (1971), printed works “began to change people’s lives” (22) because there was no need for oral tradition of learning. The traditional learning was replaced by recorded knowledge. Thus, “the wisdom and knowledge of past poets, historians, and scientists were available to everyone” (23). In consequence, civilization advanced much faster than anyone could ever image.

Another accomplishment that came from the invention of the printing press was to pass on a legacy to future generations. Bennett (1951) mentions the words of James Watson, and says that the world had never had an innovative idea till Gutenberg invented the printing press. Besides, he states that “everyone knows, that, without this marvelous art, the studies, labours, and works of great men, would have been of no use to posterity” (85). The printing press made possible that we access information that was recorded many years ago.

Gutenberg’s invention was the capstone of other inventions. According to Man (2002), the printing press “made the soil from which sprang modern history, science, popular literature, the emergency of the nation-state, so much of everything by which we define modernity” (2). Thank to the printing press we can rely on one of the most important inventions that is the driving force of modern society.

Another very important achievement is that Gutenberg was the first one who could print a very accurate version of the Bible. Winship (1940) states that nothing has been more important and more significant to the world that the printing of the Bible by Gutenberg. The Christian world changed with this achievement because people could read and learn from one of the most important books of the human history.

In connection to translation of the Bible, the advance of civilization made possible the beginning of the Reformation. Craig (2011) states that Gutenberg made possible through the printing press the dissemination of religious and secular subjects. Printing helped with the propaganda campaigns of princes and religious reformers, so education in Latin and vernacular languages was increased. Besides, Kapr (1996) reports “Martin Luther praised the printing press as a mighty helper in carrying through the Reformation” (288).

The invention of printing made possible the discovery of the Americas. Since education was reaching more areas in Europe, books motivated economic progress through practical skills and scientific knowledge. Kapr (1996) mentions that Christopher Columbus learned that the world was round and that a ship could arrive to India from a westerly direction.

The invention of the printing press spread widely and worldly within a few years. The printing press reached so many countries in Europe in just a few years. The printing press was not just an invention that stayed in Europe, but it also reached the Americas. DeVinne (1969) claims that by the time 1540, printing was used in the New World in the city of Mexico. In 1638, printing was used in North America. Eliot (2007) explains that 20 years after the invention of the printing press, it spread quickly in many cities and countries over Europe.

In conclusion, books and education can be available for everyone and not just for a few people. Knowledge is not private property; it belongs to everyone that has the desire of learning. Printing press made possible that poor and uneducated people could purchase books. Printing is necessary for a civilization to exist. Printing changed the world so much that it is very difficult to image a world without it.

It is necessary for us to have the printing. It is through printing that teachers can teach and students can study. It is through printing that physicians can preserve and remember how the human body works. It is through printing that rules and lawmakers can preserve and study the law. It is through printing that we can learn.


Barker, A. (1971). Black on White and read all over: The Story of Printing. New York, NY: Published by Julian Mesner, a Division of Simon &Schuster, Inc.

Bennett, P. A. (1951). Books and Printing: A Treasury for Typophiles. New York, NY: The World Publishing Company.

Craig, A. (2011). The Heritage of World Civilizations. New York, NY: Prentice Hall.

DeVinne, T. L. (1969). The Invention of Printing. Detroit, MI: Book Tower.

Eliot, S. & Rose, J. (2007). A Companion to the History of the Book. Oxford, UK: Blackbell Publishing.

Kapr, A. (1996). Johann Gutenberg: The man and his invention. Vermont, NE: Ashgate Publishing Company.

Kreis, S. (2000). The History Guide. Lectures on Modern European Intellectual History. Retrieved May 15, 2011 from:

Man, J. (2002). Gutenberg: How one man remade the World with Words. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

The DBQ Project (2005). What was the most Important Consequence of the Printing Press. Retrieved May 15, 2011 from

Winship, G. P. (1940). John Gutenberg. Chicago, IL: The Lakeside Press

Article originally published at


2 thoughts on “Johannes Gutenberg and the Printing Press (by Francesco Loli)

  1. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Here’s a fascinating article from a blog I recently came across called PublisHistory, about the origins of that very simple thing (to us) upon which most of the modern world is based: the printed book. Yes, even in this day of digital data and the Internet, the vast majority of human knowledge is still contained in printed books, and, technology notwithstanding, I don’t see that changing anytime in the next few centuries. Cool article!

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