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Many years ago to copy a book meant that one had to laboriously copy each letter of every word on every page by hand. The result was that books were not only a rarity but an extremely expensive rarity. Although letterpress printing was introduced by the Chinese in the 6th Century, it wasn’t until the invention of moveable type in the 15th century that the printing trade really took off. The man who invented what is known as ‘type-casting’ – Johannes Gutenburg – can rightly be acknowledged as the father of the modern book. Typecasting was a method of making large amounts of moveable type cheaply and quickly. With it Gutenburg was able to produce a book that had previously taken weeks to produce, in just a few hours.

It is believed that Johannes Gutenburg was born in Mainz, Germany around the year 1400. Gutenburg was trained as a goldsmith. His passion however was in printing and he began experimenting with the idea of a moveable type press as far back as 1438. At that time he formed a partnership with a man by the name of Andreas Dritzhen. Their efforts, however were unsuccessful and it was only when Gutenburg formed a second partnership with one Johann Fust, that he found success. The first printing press was set up by this pair in 1450.

Gutenburg’s genius lay in his ability to synergise various existing technologies to create something infinitely better. The four components of the press – moveable type, ink, paper and the actual press were all familiar tools at that time. The combination of these four elements created a revolution in the printing industry. The first book produced on Gutenburg’s new machine was a German version of the Bible in 1455. This Bible is still universally regarded as a masterpiece of printing.
Today we have technology that makes Gutenburg’s printing press look truly archaiac. Yet, without it, there would be no newspapers, no novels and no internet. Yes, we really do owe Johannes Gutenburg a debt of gratitude.