Gutenberg: l'inventore che ha influenzato la diffusione della conoscenza in tutto il mondo.

Gutenberg – the inventor who impacted the spread of knowledge around the world.


Johannes Gensfleisch, known as Johannes Gutenberg, or simply Gutenberg, was an inventor, engraver and printer during the Holy Roman Empire. Born in 1400, in the city of Mainz, Germany, he was the pioneer in Europe of the mobile printing system, known as typography.

Gutenberg came from a wealthy family, and in his childhood and youth he was dedicated to literature, which at that time were manuscripts, accessible only to those who had a good financial condition.

Johannes Gutenberg. Image: Wikipedia. Unknown author.

In his adult life, he worked as a jeweler, which later came in handy in the process of casting letters for the presses. We can observe that in Gutenberg's life, his inclinations, since childhood, resulted in an important feat not only for him, but which influenced the entire world.

Gutenberg or the Chinese?

We need to understand what the press was referred to in the model invented by the Chinese Bi Sheng in the 11th century. In the past, impressions were made using blocks, which had been used since the 7th century BC. C. by the Greeks. Bi Sheng innovated by making small blocks movable, where the characters were organized in sequence and could be replaced, paint was passed over them, and then a sheet was placed on top and pressed.

We can say that the press was an innovation by the Chinese, but Gutenberg managed to develop printing technology, modernizing it to the point that it was something that could be produced on a large scale, which is said to be the most important invention of the second millennium due to its developments.

In this video we see an animation that recreates the printing process developed by the Chinese.

The innovation

Gutenberg's press was inspired by the machines used to squeeze grapes to make wine, common in the area where he spent his childhood, in Mainz. He combined the Chinese method with the grape press model, where a wooden lathe was turned to apply pressure to the grapes, but now the pressure would be on the paper.

The use of oil paint was one of the factors that resulted in the success of Gutenberg's invention. A material that did not run and was well absorbed by the paper was needed to ensure that the letters and engravings were printed accurately, and thus Gutenberg arrived at olive oil-based ink.

Another Gutenberg improvement was the material used in the blocks' moles. While Gutenberg was able to create molds to make metal letters, the Chinese used wood or ceramics.

The speed of Gutenberg's press also stands out: annually, each one could produce the same as 50 clerks. This is also due to the phonemes, while the Latin alphabet has 26 letters, the Chinese alphabet has more than 50,000 characters.

In the following video we can see a demonstration of the use of the only Gutenberg press currently in operation, at the Crandall Historical Printing Museum, in Utah, in the United States.


Today, we may have no idea of ​​Gutenberg's role in history, but his inventions were essential to several movements, such as the Printing Revolution, the Protestant Reformation, the Renaissance and even the Scientific Revolution, as he developed a system capable of carrying out large-scale printing, reducing the cost of book copies, increasing the number of people they reach.

Gutenberg's printing press substantially expanded the market for books, contributing to increased literacy. As an example, colonial New England had a higher literacy rate in the 1750s than China had in the early 20th century.

In Mainz, Johannes' hometown, there is the Gutenberg Museumis one of the oldest printing-themed museums in the world, founded in 1900. With the aim of paying homage to this great inventor, in addition to telling his story and his achievements, the museum has a collection of machinery, books and old prints.

Gutenberg Museum

In Strasbourg, the city in Alsace where Gutenberg lived for much of his life, there is a beautiful statue in his honor. It was in Strasbourg where he carried out his research and improvement of what would later become his famous press.

Statue of Johannes Gutenberg in Strasbourg. Source: Wikipedia. Author: Ctruongngoc

It is held annually in the United States, the Festival Gutenberga fair that brings together companies and professionals in the field of printing, graphic design and similar, paying homage to Johannes Gutenberg, and we can see how magnificent his invention was for humanity.