Johannes Gutemberg Biography

Johann Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutemberg, (Mainz, Germany 1395 – Eltville, Germany, 3 February 1468).

Craftsman and Inventor of German origin, who created, in the fifteenth century, the first printing press based on “mobile types”, achieving a real revolution in the world of book publishing, by substantially reducing the cost and time of production of printed texts, which was translated into an expansion of Education, Politics and Knowledge, which is why he is considered one of the most influential people in history.

He is believed to have been born into a modest family of merchants based in mainz, Germany. He was the third son of Freile zum Gensfleisch and Else Wirick zum Gutemberg, years later he adopted the use of only his maternal surname, being historically known Johannes Gutemberg.

Very little data is known about the first stage of his life. Some of Mainz’s historical records place him as an apprentice goldsmith. His father died in 1419. Later, in 1428, due to a revolt of artisans in his city, his family had to move to Strasbourg, where some historians believe that he practiced the trade of silversmith.

Loss of your business

In 1438, a legal process between the heirs of his partner Andreas Dritzehn and Gutemberg seems to reveal that at that time he was already working on his invention.

It appears that the statements of some witnesses called to testify during the trial show at that time that a carpenter named Conrad Saspach had been hired by Dritzehn to perform a wooden press, while a goldsmith named Hans Dunne claimed to have sold Gutemberg in 1436 the equivalent of 100 guilders in smelting metals.

Dritzehn’s heirs demanded that he reveal the nature of the project he was working on. However, they lost the lawsuit.

In 1448, Gutemberg returned to Mainz, where he acquired a loan from investor Johan Fust, in order to develop his invention. However, 1452 discovers it without being completed and with no money to continue. Gutemberg asks Fust for an extension of funding, and to achieve this he makes a deal with Fust where he was entitled to participate in his business of not paying him. In 1455 he complied with his agreement, ceding his new invention to Johan Fust.

The Mobile Types Printing

Until that time, the books were handwritten, thanks to the work of monks, who transcribed the contents of the original to the different copies. It is said that not everyone could read or write, so the transcription was an exercise in copying faithful to the symbols embodied in the material to be reproduced. Both letters and illustrations were handmade, so making an entire book was a task that could take more than a decade to complete.

In the high Middle Ages the use of woodcutting was implemented in the European continent, being used mainly for the manufacture of advertisements or political pamphlets.

This technique was based on making a negative on a wooden tablet, in which the desired shape to be printed was left hollow, once designed it was placed on the paper and a roller full of ink was passed, in order to achieve printing. However, this technique was only useful for short-extending work, as wooden tablets tended to wear out very quickly.

Gutemberg created a system to make small wooden molds for each of the letters of the alphabet, then filled them with iron, thus creating small cubes with reliefs of the letters: the first moving types. The idea was to match these types with the lines to be printed, and using a press, to make a much faster impression.

Gutemberg’s idea was a unique creation, unprecedented in Europe or Asia. After its popularization, it was used for years in the world of printing presses, without undergoing major changes until well into the twentieth century, when digital printing technology began to be implemented.

Unfortunately, Gutemberg didn´t really know how long it would take to develop his invention, because to get a whole book printed, even a page, it takes hundreds of moving types of the same letters. Which made him lose his business.

The Gutemberg Bible

However, before being ruined, Gutemberg managed to print a copy Bible, whose pages had 42 lines, known as the Gutemberg Bible. As they stayed with the business, Fust and Shofer, who was Fust’s nephew and had worked as Gutemberg’s apprentice, began printing copies of Bibles that they sold to clerics.

They also printed The Salterio (Book of Psalms) decorated in two colors, with beautiful initial letters. Some historians believe that it is impossible that both Fust and Shofer could have developed such a delicate and sophisticated method, so they are inclined to think that Gutemberg, after losing his company, to survive, had to work for them, besides without receive any merit.

Final years

Gutemberg’s last years are also not known in depth. He is believed to have continued to work in the printing business, under the protection of Adolphus II, who took the city of Mainz in 1462, and in 1465 he was awarded the title of Hofmmann (i.e., knight of the court) providing him with a salary and privileges for his services.

Apparently at the end of his days he had lost his sight. He died on 3 February 1468 in Eltville, Germany. Despite having lost his business, Johann Gutemberg is considered the inventor of modern printing and one of the most influential men, having been able to conceive an invention that changed the world of letters, science and politics of the modern world.

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Johannes Gutemberg Biography
Source: Education  
July 20, 2019

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