Who Invented Printing Press?

 Evolution of printing press

This post is a follow-up to the Brief writing history. The history of writing would be incomplete without the printing press history and its interlinkages with other writing systems.

An equally interesting subject worthy mentioning is how the printing press changed the world. Historical trends have shown that writing has not remained static but evolved over the years.

Before the printing press

  1. The evolution has taken place in phases. The first phase is the writing era, followed by the Invention of the Computer.
  2. Cuneiform
    The first Cuneiform are pictographs first developed by the ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia, present-day Iraq, around 3,500 B.C.
  3. Shorthand
    The Pitman shorthand was invented in 1837.
  4. Archaic Greek
    The Ancient Greek period saw the Greek alphabet being developed between 800 B.C. and 500 B.C.
  5. Modern Chinese
    Old Persian and Modern Cherokee.

When was the printing press invented?

  1. The advent of the printing press is believed to have occurred 500 years ago before paper and print were invented. Oral communication was the only method people used for gathering and distributing information. 

    In terms of promoting community growth, this method of communication was limited. Another drawback was that in those days methods of accurately storing and retrieving information were not yet available.

  2. Papyrus scrolls and manuscript codex were the technologies involved in the written word.

    The main disadvantage was that it was time-consuming and a few copies were in circulation but were not widely distributed. They were only limited to the upper, rich and famous class in society.

  3. The invention of the printing press saw a shift from the laborious manuscript to the codex print.
  4. The concept of printing was first conceived and developed in China and Korea.
  5. However, the first mechanised printing press was invented by a German metal worker, Johann Gutenberg, in 1452.

Gutenberg printing press impact
Gutenberg did not invent the printing press. He is reported to have conceived the idea of the movable type of 3 distinct technologies that people had been using for many centuries before Gutenberg (Jones 2007).

History also records that Gutenberg is the one who developed a press which mechanised the transfer of ink from movable type to paper, a press perfectly suited for printing.

Why was the printing press so important?
The printing press allowed many copies of written work to be quickly created. And this resulted in information for all as people now had access to information.

Impact of the printing press on society
This also provided the framework for the gradual transformation of literacy on a societal level. For the first time in history, books could now be mass-produced at a minimal cost compared to the previous era characterised by conventional printing methods.

The transformation was so drastic. The need for the laborious manuscript copying and production of the written word was no longer there.

The impact of the printing press on education
The printing press facilitated the democratizing of knowledge in the sense that a greater number of individuals were given access to more information.

The printing press made it possible to make the written work more uniform in its viewing format. The mechanization of the printing press achieved more regular spacing and hyphenation of the print (Bolter, 2001).

In the period prior to the printing press, the written word was individually ascribed with no standard format, with inconsistent writing and grammar because it was handwritten. The printing press led to more consistent spellings, grammar and punctuations. (McLuhan, 1962).

Through this uniformity and reliability of the written work, readers were able to interpret consistently the writer’s thoughts and ideas. 

Before the advent of the printing press, books were quite expensive because it was a laborious task to hand-scribe each book.

Unfortunately, only the wealthy upper elite class could afford such books. Its not surprising that those literate were mainly found at this class level.

The impact of the printing press on cultural and religious transformations

The printing press was also a driving factor in creating significant cultural and religious transformations throughout Europe. Eisenstein (1997) discusses the shift from manuscript to print in relation to three movements.

  1. The Scientific Revolution
  2. The Renaissance
  3. The Reformation.

The invention of the printing press helped scientists to be flexible in the sharing and exchanging of information. WalterJ. Ong’s book, Orality and Literacy, sheds light on the changes that occurred, particularly in  thought and expression after introducing the act of writing.

Also, the author acknowledges the role the printing press has played. He sees it as a positive role of reinforcing and transforming the effects of writing thoughts and expression.

The Printing Press As An Agent Of Change (1979), is a historical book written by Professor Elizabeth L. Eisenstein. She clarifies how diversified and vast particular effects of the print were. Her book sheds light on the advent of printing press and its importance as an agent of change.

Eisenstein also highlights the shift that occurred from script to print including the major movements of early modern times: the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the rise of modern science.

Marotti (1995) in Literary Criticism focuses on England. Marotti examines the interrelationships between two systems of manuscript and print publication. In particular, how they shaped together with the emerging institution of literature.

This occurred during the English Renaissance period, a time when anthologies, pamphlets, folio editions including manuscript were circulated.

In this ground-breaking historical and cultural study of sixteenth- and early seventeenth century, there is no doubt the printing system had a profound impact on the lives of people in general. With the mass production of books also came the widespread distribution of written materials.

The amazing transformation 
More people had access to reading materials and were exposed to extra reading. This broadened their source of information which was now coming from different points of view including religions and cultural exchanges.

Hopefully, this post explains how did the printing press change the world? If you have any question related to, Who Invented Printing Press? please feel free to leave it below. I will be more than happy to respond as soon as I can.


4 Comments to “Who Invented Printing Press?”

  1. Chris says:

    Hi Femia,

    thanks for this elaborate blog post on the history of printing press. I really enjoyed reading it. I have to admit that I never really thought about writing and printing in that great detail, though I was certainly aware of how big its impact was on humankind, especially on how society developed, how it enabled the majority people (other than just the wealthy elite) to get ahold of information and knowledge. As you already pointed out: The next episode following the era of writing would be the era of computers and eventually the internet. Following the reader of your recent post on writing, I would like to encourage you to continue the series by writing about the era of information technology, which certainly had a similar, if not even greater impact on our society than the writing era had 🙂

    All the best,

    1. Femia says:

      Hi, Chris, thank you so much for taking your time to leave some invaluable comments.
      I am pleased to hear you enjoyed reading my post ‘Printing Press History.’
      Also, I can’t thank you enough for your advice to add another important segment to the history of writing.
      Adding the era of information technology, will surely make the history of writing more complete. Looking back to where it all started, I am amazed by the transformation so far. Not mentioning the era of information technology we are in now, which  I agree with you has more impacts on our society than ever before.
      Once again, thanks for stopping by.

  2. Ravihansa Rajapakse says:

    Yes, we have come a long way as far as ‘writing’ is concerned. Nowadays ‘writing an article’ could have a very different meaning.
    The most important advancement I see though is the speech recognition technologies. Such technologies can help people with visual impairments (or in fact anyone) to easily WRITE anything. Love your article!

    1. Femia says:

      Hello, Ravihansa, thank you so much for taking your time to leave some comments.
      I can’t agree less. I also appreciate the role technology is playing in improving the lives of people with difficulties.
      I am sure you have heard about the invention of a Smartstones Touch. Its an electronic device which allows people who can’t speak. Indeed writing has come a long way, coupled with new technology , it is giving a voice to the voiceless.

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