Johannes Guttenberg (1400-1468) was a German goldsmith credited with inventing the metal moveable type printing. Although such printing type may have existed in China for several centuries, Guttenberg was the first in the Western world to make it possible. In so doing he made it possible to mass produce books. Prior to him books, mostly Bibles, were laboriously hand written and reproduced by hand.
Making books easily and cheaply produced meant that people with ideas could now print their ideas and sell them and that way spread alternative ideas than was taught by the Catholic Church. In a manner of speaking, Guttenberg made the religious reformation possible; indeed, he made the enlightenment possible, the era where folk wrote about reason without the need to make it conform to the superstitions the Church propagated and still propagates as the only truth there is.
What Guttenberg did is akin to our age’s invention of the Internet. Just think of how easy it is now to communicate. In a few seconds ones ideas could be read by folk all over the world. This ease of communication means the death of old cultures, traditional societies, where the same staid ideas ruled the people’s minds for centuries and kept them primitive more than they should be.
For this invention of the moveable print, Guttenberg is probably one of the greatest men that have ever lived. He made other things possible. Guttenberg is probably the number one person in the last two thousand years.
It is said that Guttenberg invented and perfected his moveable press at Strasbourg in 1440. However, a lot of myths have come to be associated with him that it is now difficult to ascertain the specifics of his life. We do not even have an accurate picture of him for it was not less than a hundred years later that some one drew a portrait of him (in Heinrich Pantaleon’s biography of famous Germans); all things being constant that picture is likely imaginary and or an embellished image of him.
The legacy of Guttenberg is that he made book printing easier and cheaper. This meant the printing of many books and selling them cheaply. The cumulative effect is to spread literacy rather than leave it as the preserve of Catholic monks. Talking about the Church, when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses against the Church they were quickly replicated and spread all over Europe, an event that would not have been possible a hundred years earlier (from 1517, the year Luther posted his theses) when only the clergy were able to read and write, and wrote books in laborious hand writing.
Guttenberg spread literacy and for that accomplishment alone, he is one of the greatest human beings that have ever lived.
Albert Kapr. Johannes Guttenberg: The Man and his Invention. (1996)