When it comes to first impressions, no other historical figure made one quite like the inventor of the mechanical movable type printing press: German craftsman Johannes Gutenberg. This revolutionary technology made the knowledge found in books both affordable and accessible to the common person for the first time in history. Today’s Doodle celebrates Gutenberg on the anniversary of this day in 2000 when the Gutenberg Museum launched a retrospective exhibition in his honor.
Although much of Gutenberg’s life is shrouded in mystery, historical records indicate he was born circa 1400 in Mainz, Germany, and first made his living as a metalworker in the goldsmith trade. By the late 1430s, historians believe Gutenberg began to develop a more efficient text printing device in an attempt to pay off debts from a failed mirror business. The machine he invented (essentially a retrofitted winepress) replaced the hand-carved wooden letter and graphic blocks of traditional printers for easily-cast metal type, which were then dipped in proprietary ink to print entire pages at once.
Gutenberg’s next eureka moment came in 1450 with his invention’s first successful print: a Latin book on speech-making. From here, Gutenberg was off to the races as he innovated labor by hiring an assembly-line team to produce books quicker than ever! A testament to the power of human creativity, the Gutenberg press printed up to 3,600 pages on an average workday, fueling the first large-scale production of books in Europe.
By the 16th century, an estimated 200 million books were in print thanks to his invention, which gave birth to a new era of mass communication and a new branch of media: the press. Today, Gutenberg’s legacy lives on with Project Gutenberg, an online library with over 60,000 free books.
Thank you, Johannes Gutenberg!