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See the fact file below for more information on Johannes Gutenberg or alternatively, you can download our comprehensive worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Early Life and Europe prior to Gutenberg’s Invention
- Johannes Gutenberg was born in Mainz, Germany, between 1394 and 1404. He was the son of Freile zum Gensfleisch, a goldsmith and town councilor, and Else Wirick zum Gutenberg, daughter of a shopkeeper. Johannes got his surname from the ancestral house of his father, Hof zum Gutenberg. Johannes had three siblings, one named Patze from his father’s first marriage.
- When Johannes was still young, his family was exiled to Strasbourg, France, after the revolt of craftsmen against the Patricians, the ruling noble class.
- After the bubonic plague swept through Europe, non-patricians refused to pay taxes, which ignited the revolt. While living in Strasbourg, a city known for metalcrafts, Gutenberg began experimenting.
- Prior to Gutenberg’s invention, Europe used wooden blocks to press ink onto paper. Writing a letter was easy, but reproducing copies for more readers took a lot of time and money.
- In 1041, artisan Bi Sheng of the Song Dynasty invented the first movable type, made from ceramic. In addition, he also invented the wooden movable type printing press, which reached prominence in the Ming and Qing era.
- Around 1230, Koreans under the Goryeo Dynasty made use of metal movable type printing presses, which were almost like the process of Gutenberg. Chinese and Korean characters were more intricate, however, with tens of thousands of types, compared to Europeans’ 26-letter alphabet.
Johannes Gutenberg’s Invention
- While staying in Strasbourg, Gutenberg worked to familiarize himself with bookmaking and started to develop small metal type. He made innovations in casting metal alloys that enabled easier production.
- By 1450, he introduced the first metal movable type printing press to Europe. Compared to 40-50 pages using the conventional wooden type, his invention enabled thousands of pages per day.
- His invention led to the acquisition of books by the middle class in Europe for the first time. Through books, knowledge rapidly spread in Europe. He started to run his own operating shop in Mainz through a local financier named Johann Fust.
- By 1455, Gutenberg was heavily in debt to Fust. After a lawsuit, Fust took over his printing press. It’s believed that Gutenberg printed the “Forty-Two-Line” Bible, also known as the Gutenberg Bible, at this time. He was able to print 180 copies of the Bible, the first mass-produced book in Europe.
- In 1972, the last complete Gutenberg’s Bible was sold for $2.2 million. Today, experts estimate that a complete copy can be sold at auction for $35 million.
- In addition, printing of the Psalter (book of Psalms) also became one of Gutenberg’s major achievements. It was the first book with the name of its printers on display.
- After bankruptcy, Gutenberg left the city. It was at this time that Mainz was engaged in a warlike conflict for the throne of the Archbishop. In 1465, Archbishop Adolph von Nassau honored Gutenberg with the title of Hofmann (gentleman of the court) for his achievements in printing. The honor gave him an annual stipend, outfit for the court, and liters of tax-free grain and wine.
Death and Legacy
- On February 3, 1468, Johannes Gutenberg died and was buried at the Franciscan church at Mainz.
- By 1900, the Gutenberg Museum was founded in Mainz. It houses documents related to the introduction of modern typography in Europe.
- In 1997, his invention was declared the most important innovation of the second millennium according to Time Life magazine.
- The metal movable type printing press led to the mass production of books, making them more available and affordable for commoners in Europe. The proliferation of knowledge through printed books led to the development of the Renaissance, Reformation, Age of Enlightenment, and Scientific Revolution in Europe.
- In addition to the metal movable type printing press, Gutenberg also introduced a more suitable oil-based ink to Europe.
Johannes Gutenberg Worksheets
This bundle includes 11 ready-to-use Johannes Gutenberg worksheets that are perfect for students to learn about Johannes Gutenberg who was a German inventor who introduced the concept of the metal movable type printing press to Europe.
This download includes the following worksheets:
- Johannes Gutenberg Facts
- Master of European Printing
- History of Print
- Because of Gutenberg
- Greatest Inventors
- Gutenberg’s Bible
- East and West
- Terms to Print
- Printing Press
- Modern Printing
- In Print
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