The Fascinating Story of the Printing Press

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The Fascinating Story of the Printing Press

How this incredible machine came into being.


The technology of the printing press has done much, much more than just make the jobs of pharmacists reading doctors’ scripts easier, and yet, no one ever seems to pay much heed to this life-changing invention.  Rock music has its documentaries; visionaries have their autobiographies – what about the poor old printing press?  Well, now it has this article.


When we think of modern Xerox printers, and their fast and efficient printing, it is hard to believe that the printing press is a very old piece of machinery.  But that’s exactly what it is: very old!  The first known machine that was used for printing dates back nearly one thousand years, to 1048.  It took its Chinese creator, Bi Sheng, roughly seven years to perfect, but we can forgive that just this once.


This technology was then adopted by the Koreans, who, over the next couple of hundred years, created a metal printing machine that was the father of the printing press, before the world was really ready for it.  This machine was used to print books as early as 1234.


It took another couple of centuries for printing technology to emerge in Europe.  Developed by Johannes Gutenberg of Germany, the European printing press came into existence around the year 1450.  This printing press was so efficient that it allowed books to be mass-produced.  It was so successful that printing technology soon began to spread from Germany across Europe, although it took around twenty years for the first book to be published in English.


Soon the sheer productivity of the printing press allowed for more social advancements, and birthed new professions.  The ‘media’, as we call them today, were, on account of Gutenberg’s invention, then called ‘the press’.  In fact, Francis Bacon believed the printing press to be one of three inventions to completely change the world, with the other two being firearms and the compass.


The printing press meant that large-scale communication was possible, which had a huge impact on the world.  In addition to this, more people were exposed to the written word, which had a large effect on literacy.  Eventually, hand-operated printing presses gave way to steam-powered presses, which further increased productivity.


When we think of how convenient Xerox printers make our lives today, it is hard to imagine that steam power could have been seen as revolutionary. However, at the time, it definitely was.  And, without the early innovators, we wouldn’t have the printed word as we do today.  So, once again, consider yourself lucky, because this entire inspirational story would have looked like a page of scribbles without it.


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