GMIH-019 Johannes Gutenberg

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Did you know that every time you read a book there is one person to thank.  If it were not for this man with a great mustache you would never be able to read a book because there would not be any books printed. Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press and he had a great beard and mustache.

The printing press might be one of the most important inventions ever. Without book we wouldn’t be able to learn. People would not be able to learn about history or share information with others. Most of what we know of science is learned in books.

You would not believe how hard it was to make books before Gutenberg invented the printing press. Every letter in every book had to be written by hand so you can imagine how hard it would be to make a whole library. And just think even if you could get one library full of books there would not be any other libraries. Very few people could own books because they cost so much and were so rare.

The printing press made the Renaissance possible and led the world out of the dark ages. This makes him the perfect subject for this episode of Great Mustaches in History.

Early Life

Johannes Gutenberg was born in Mainz, Germany around the year 1398. His father was a Goldsmith. His family lived in a few different towns in Germany. I’m afraid that’s about all that anyone knows about his early life.

The Printing Press

Reproduction of Gutenberg's Printing Press

Reproduction of Gutenberg’s Printing Press

There were some things being done to try to print books but Gutenberg took some things like wood cuts and pressing paper on raised inked letters and improved them to make the printing press in 1450.

The biggest thing he made up was the use of movable type. Before Gutenberg came up with that idea every page printed was made by carving a wooden block and putting ink on it and then pressing paper against that block. It was hard, took a long time, and required a very skilled artist to make the wood cut.

Gutenberg used movable metal pieces for each letter. He could put these together to quickly create pages.

Gutenberg came up with other ideas to make the printing process better and faster. Gutenberg made a printing press that could print 1000′s of pages each day. Before that the fastest anyone could print anything with woodcuts was just a few dozen pages a day.

Since books could be printed so much faster common people could have books. This let people learn like never before. Printing presses spread all over Europe. Since thousands of books were now being printed knowledge spread like never before. This led to the Renaissance, the Age of Reason, the Enlightenment, and other stuff like that.

First Printed Things

Gutenberg Bible, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Gutenberg Bible, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

The first thing he ever printed was a German poem. He printed some books to let people learn Latin. These books were called Latin Grammars.

But the most important thing he printed was the Gutenberg Bible. Before Gutenberg, Bibles were very hard to get. Bibles cost more than most people had and even if a person had the money for a Bible it could take a whole year for a priest to right it by hand. Gutenberg printed around 200 of these in a relatively short time. 

Soon many people had Bibles, there were lots of other books printed, and knowledge spread.

If it were not for Gutenberg there would not have been things like the Industrial Revolution and we would not be in the information age.

In a way, the fact that you are listening to this podcast is indirectly because of Johannes Gutenberg.

Interesting Facts About Gutenberg

  • The original Gutenberg Bible sold for 30 florins. That was a lot of money back then but much, much cheaper than a hand written Bible.
  • There around 48 Gutenberg Bibles today but only 21 complete Gutenberg Bibles existing still today. One of these Bibles is likely worth around $30 million.
  • Gutenberg did not have much money during his lifetime. He was not very famous when he died but his fame grew as people realized how important his invention was.
  • Remember that we talked about Mark Twain in Episode 12 of this podcast? Well, Mark Twain wrote: “What the world is today, good and bad, it owes to Gutenberg.”

Great Mustaches in History

So, every time you pick up a book you can remember that modern printing was invented by a great man who had a great mustache and beard.


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