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Historically Speaking

Historically Speaking: Gutenberg

by Tom Morrow

Regardless of your religious beliefs or philosophy, the first printings of the Bible was the catalyst for spurring wide-spread education and literacy, bringing the nations of the world closer together.

Printing with movable type can be traced back to 1040 AD, invented by a Chinaman, Bi Sheng, who began using movable wood blocks to print. In 1392, the Koreans were using movable copper type to print. But the dawn of modern-day typesetting began in the mid-1400 by Johannes Gutenberg of Mainz, Germany.

Unlike his Oriental counterparts, Gutenberg’s process made printing practical, which led to a revolution in mass communications. Until the advancements of the computer, Gutenberg’ method remained the principal way to print until the late 20th century.

Gutenberg’s method centered around the key innovation involving the making of a punch-stamped mold that could cast large amount of metal type with precision for a new kind of press using oil-based ink. His first printing job for mass distribution was 180 copies of the Bible in 1455. Until that time, the Bible was painstakingly done by hand by clergymen, taking as long as 20 years just to produce on volume. That first Gutenberg edition was printed in Latin.

His technology spread throughout Europe and by 1520, more than 200 different editions of the Bible had been produced. While Gutenberg printed his first volumes in Latin, printers began producing other books, posters, simple news announcements in their native languages, which made books on all subjects readily available to not just scholars, but to the general population. This resulted in people becoming more literate. News and ideas spread quickly and widely, bringing the world closer together.

Gutenberg never profited from his invention. In fact, it caused him to end up bankrupt. While under development, he had financial problems, and to make matters worse, his financial backer, Johann Fust, became impatient and successfully sued Gutenberg, forcing him to relinquish all claims to his printing process. Fust went on to make a fortune from Bible sales. Gutenberg died in 1468 broke and in relative obscurity.

Side notes:
In November 1966, Californians elected Republican Ronald Reagan as governor, defeating his Democratic opponent Edmund G. “Pat” Brown in a heavy turnout of voters.
Also in November 1966, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ ace pitcher Sandy Koufax was forced into retirement from baseball due to arthritis in his left arm. At the height of his career, the Dodgers paid Koufax a whopping $125,000, the highest of any pitcher in baseball.


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