History of the Printing Press
In the mid-1400's Johannes Gutenberg invented a printing press which revolutionized the production of books. Books could be printed in large quantities. More people could own books.
The history of printing began many years before Gutenberg, however. 600 years before Gutenberg, Chinese monks used block printing. Wooden blocks with the text carved onto them were coated with ink and then pressed onto paper. The carved wooden blocks were used in Korea and Japan in the 700's. Buddhist and Taoist works were printed this way. Prior to 1100, a Chinese man named Bi Sheng invented the first movable type. It was well documented by a Chinese scholar of the time, Shen Kuo. The movable characters were made of baked clay. The ink was made of pine resin, wax and paper ashes.
Metal type was also used in China. In Korea, a monk named Baegun printed what is thought to be the oldest book made with metal movable type. Although this early book was successful, Asians did not use movable type for printing as much as the Europeans. Probably this is due to the nature of Asian languages which deal with characters instead of letters.
Before 1440, Europeans were using a woodblock method for printing like the Chinese method. This method was called xylography. If not printed with wooden blocks, books were copied by hand, a job which was very time-consuming. As a result, not too many people owned books.
Between 1440 and 1450, Johannes Gutenberg became known as a goldsmith and craftsman in Strasbourg, Germany. He saw the monetary value in being able to mass produce a cheap product. He wanted to devise a method to be able to print books more quickly. He knew that he would have to have a different piece for every letter of the alphabet, both lower and upper case, plus punctuation marks. His experience working at a mint was helpful to him. A mixture of linseed oil and soot became his ink.
He decided to use the screw mechanism from wine presses and adapt it for printing. He set up an assembly line method so that books could be produced in quantity. The cost was also much lower. His machine was called a movable type machine. The pieces of type could be moved around to form new words. Gutenberg chose to make a Bible as his first printed work.
Frames hold words and sentences. All the letters are backwards. Ink is smeared on the blocks and paper is placed on top of this. This combination runs through a roller to make sure that the letters are transferred to the paper. When the paper is lifted, the text is visible. Gutenberg's press was powered by hand. Later in the 1800's, a steam press was invented. Today, printing presses are automated and powered by electricity.
Printing presses are designed for a specific purpose. Offset presses use a computer to create a plate. This is put onto a cylinder, and ink is applied. This rolls against a rubber cylinder and then puts ink onto sheets of paper. This offset press can produce large volumes of books, papers and magazines at a low cost. Digital presses make printing only a few volumes mush less costly. They use laser or ink jet technology to transfer ink to paper. An engraving press can create raised logos on paper.
At first, mass-produced books were popular only with the lower classes. The rich thought that a hand-written book was more prestigious. Eventually, works were produced in large quantities and became widely accepted. Scholars liked the process because they could make many copies of their papers. People could read and greatly increase their knowledge. Information was spread more widely.
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