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The First Mass Printing

Updated on May 28, 2013
BlossomSB profile image

Bronwen loves to enjoy literature and write poetry; some are in her book, 'Dithyrambles', available in her online bookstore.

The Cathedral in Mainz, Germany. It is Opposite the Gutenberg Museum.
The Cathedral in Mainz, Germany. It is Opposite the Gutenberg Museum. | Source

Mainz, Home of the First Mass Printing Press

If ever you are fortunate enough to go on a cruise down the Rhine, you are sure to stop and have some time to spent in Mainz, in Germany. This is the home of the Gutenberg Museum and it includes the first mass printing press in Europe. The Museum was moved here to opposite the Mainz church and then set up in 1900 to celebrate five hundred years since the birth of Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz.

The Importance of Gutenberg's Invention

The Gutenberg Museum also celebrates much of the advancement of the knowledge-based economy that we enjoy today.

  • The Spread of Knowledge: This invention was an important contributing factor to the Renaissance and Reformation that followed and led to the opportunity for the spread of information and learning to all people.
  • Movable Type: Others had tried to find a way of mass printing over the centuries, and there were methods found, such as wood-block printing and copper etching, but these were much slower and not many copies could be made at a time. Gutenberg's invention was so successful that the method continued to be used - with adaptations and improvements - right until the late twentieth century when digital printing was introduced. The secret of Gutenberg's success was that he used movable type.

Gutenberg's Background

Gutenberg's family were devout Catholics and had important work as leaders and also as goldsmiths with the church. However, a number of the upper class families in Mainz were driven from the town in an uprising, so he mostly grew up in Strasbourg where it is said he, too, worked as a goldsmith and also a blacksmith, so his invention was first conceived in Strasbourg, although later he moved back to Mainz.

The First Mass-produced Book

The first book to be mass printed in this way was the Holy Bible. Before this, it had been copied by hand, often taking many years to complete one copy. To us, Gutenberg's method took quite a while, too. His first production was 180 Bibles, some of which are still in existence today. Although they were printed in 1452, it was another three years before they were completed because Gutenberg's printing machine was only able to use black ink and all the red ink and beautiful illuminated letters and painted decorations had to be completed by hand. When they were completed, they were real works of art.

Gutenberg's Printing Machine - Still in Use
Gutenberg's Printing Machine - Still in Use | Source

Printing and Economics

Gutenberg's invention, with its movable type and the use of oil-based inks, meant that printing became much cheaper. In turn, this meant that it was more economically viable for both the printer and those who desired to purchased the printed work.

The technology spread across Europe and then to other countries quite rapidly, which led to many more people being able to own books, being able to read, and to the spread of knowledge.

The Method is Demonstrated for Tourists
The Method is Demonstrated for Tourists | Source

The Gutenberg Museum

The Gutenberg Museum houses a number of different, historical ways of printing and the curators there will demonstrate some of these methods, much to the delight of tourists.

Showing the Printing Type and Added Decoration
Showing the Printing Type and Added Decoration | Source

Museum Postcards

There are many attractive goods to be purchased in the Museum shop and these include postcards - ever popular with tourists, both for sending to friends and as light-weight mementoes.

  • In the collage above, the first postcard is a facsimile of the one that was printed for the celebration of the opening of the Mains Gutenberg Museum in 1900.
  • The other postcards show the kind of lettering that was used in Germany in the 1500s and examples of the detailed decorations that were added.
  • Below is a postcard that purports to show the people who worked at the printing press and the kind of jobs that they did.
  • The postcard of the Bible shows an opening of one of the surviving copies of Gutenberg's first 180 Bibles. This Bible is preserved in a Museum in the USA.

The Workers and the Processes to Complete the Printing
The Workers and the Processes to Complete the Printing | Source


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    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 3 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      BigBlue54: I'm so glad that you enjoyed the hub. Yes, the Chinese and some other Asian countries were well ahead of Europe in many areas and even there things were sometimes invented or discovered concurrently in different countries. It's and interesting world, isn't it?

    • BigBlue54 profile image

      BigBlue54 4 years ago from Hull, East Yorkshire

      Hi Blossom I very much enjoyed reading this hub about Gutenburg and seeing the photographs of the printing process. Ironic that I have read it through a process that does not require print or paper.

      I feel I need to mention one thing. The Chinese were printing with movable type in 1040 AD and the use of metal type was introduced by the Koreans in 1234. It is an example of convergent technology, the same or similar technology being invented in more then one place. It is the same with the wheel. The reason no one could discover where it was invented is because it was invented it more then one place.

      This in no way diminishes what Gutenberg achieved or the impact it had. And as well as being a document his bible is a work of art.

      Again thanks for sharing

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Tamarajo: It must have been very exciting indeed, and although I have several different translations, it is still a privilege to read it every day. Thank you for your lovely comments.

    • Tamarajo profile image

      Tamarajo 4 years ago

      How fascinating that the first 180 still exist. What a privilege it must have been to own a Bible and What a privilege we should consider it now.

      Interesting article on the most popular and sacred book of all time.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Jackie Lynnley: It was a wonderful event, but it was not welcomed by many, they thought the Bible was too precious for the masses! Thank you so much for your lovely comments.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Oh, what a time that must have been! I can almost feel the joy and excitement. The birth of something so magnificent. Thanks for the sharing of this most historic event! I love it. Up, over and sharing!

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Elias Zanetti: I'm so glad you enjoyed it - it's always interesting to find out how things that we take for granted came about.

    • Elias Zanetti profile image

      Elias Zanetti 4 years ago from Athens, Greece

      Excellent hub and a really interesting read. Printing is certainly one of the greatest inventions of all time that defined to a large extent the future societies and the way that knowledge is dispersed. The Gutenberg museum and the artwork also look great!

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      phdast7: Thank you. Yes, with our digital age we forget how it all began. It was such a privilege to visit the Museum. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, too.

      mercuryservices: Thank you for the comment and vote. It would be useful to be able to search all books for reference, but for me, for actual reading there's nothing like the feel and enjoymentof a real book.

    • mercuryservices profile image

      Alex Munkachy 4 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

      Nice hub, voted up. I think the next Gutenberg event will be when all books get uploaded and become searchable on Google.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Blossom - This a fabulous hub! Wonderful pictures and terrific text. You did a splendid job on this hub and more people need to remember and understand the importance of Gutenberg and the movable type press. I love talking about this every time I teach Western Civilization. Great job. Sharing.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      suzettenaples: Thank you for coming by. Yes, it was the beginning of many things. The cruise is great, I'm sorry you didn't get to see the Museum as I found it very interesting. Thank you for your lovely comments.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 4 years ago from Taos, NM

      Great hub, Blossom. The printing press sure did revolutionize knowledge for the masses. I have taken that cruise down the Maine River, but I have not been to the museum. It really looks fascinating and I would love the see the demonstration. The postcards are beautiful. Thanks for a very interesting and informative hub.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      tobusiness: We do take so much for granted and it's so good to have the opportunity to visit museums such as this to realize how people have worked - and not so long ago really. Thank you for your comments.

      LadyFiddler: Not really, there are so many places I haven't been, but I have been blessed in the ones that I have been able to visit and live, and live in, too. God bless you.

      MsDora: It is interesting and I love learning more about places and especially about the Bible. Thank you, too.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Blossom, all I knew about Gutenberg is that the Bible was mass printed there. The additional context makes it more interesting. Thanks.

    • LadyFiddler profile image

      Joanna Chandler 4 years ago from On planet Earth

      WAW very informative you have covered the atlas am convinced . You have been everywhere :) lol.

      Great hub

      God be with you

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      We've come to take so much for granted!... it's extraordinary how the printed words and therefore, the printing press, change the world.... knowledge became accessible and attainable to the masses and the rest is history.

      A very educational hub, thank you for taking us along on this wonderful trip. Voting up, awesome and sharing.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Kathleen Cochran: Thank you for your lovely comments.

      RTalloni: I'm so glad that you enjoyed your 'visit' - as I obviously did, too. I agree that there is always so much more to learn - even with all our technology our basic human needs do remain the same. Blessings.

      Dbro: What a wonderful place to visit on your honeymoon! I could have spent so much more time in Mainz and the Museum, too. Thank you for your encouraging comments.

    • Dbro profile image

      Dbro 4 years ago from Texas, USA

      I very much enjoyed this hub, Blossom! I was in Mainz years ago on my honeymoon. We were in awe of the history housed in that lovely city. We owe so much to Gutenberg's invention. The spread of knowledge and literacy could not have been possible without it. Thank you for doing your part to keep the love of learning and knowledge alive.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks much for this look at the museum in Mainz, also for adding photos that display the beauty of the work done by hand so long ago.

      It is too bad that all students are not taught to appreciate the history of how the Gutenberg Bibles were printed. Our modern ways of communication are taken for granted. Printing had severe opposition in the mid-1400s (an old story indeed--elitist officials wanted to keep average citizens in the dark) but today it would be easier for authorities to shut down our methods of messaging than it was in Gutenberg's time. Understanding the roots/methods of mass communication of those days could be useful information in the future.

      It is also sad that students are not taught the purpose behind the efforts to print the Bible. Once people could read it and let its words of life interpret themselves in their own hearts and minds they no longer depended on interpretations from men with power over communities. Their understanding of God's plan for this world rapidly expanded. For all of our technology, that basic human need remains the same. Thanks again for highlighting the museum!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      How facinating! Love the photos second only to the great information. Sharing.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Ericdierker: How true. May God bless you.

      teacherjoe52: Good morning (although the sun is not yet up, it's almost winter here) and thank you for your comments. May God bless you, too.

      Mhatter99: Thank you, Martin. I find it so interesting it's great to share.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for this well written piece of history.

    • teacherjoe52 profile image

      teacherjoe52 4 years ago

      Good morning beautiful sister.

      I like the photo's and would like to visit the museum.

      Yes he revelutionized the world with his invetion.

      May God bless you with your reveltions in your walk with Christ

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      We are one in sacrifice and love.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Faith Reaper: It is interesting and I was so blessed to be able to see that museum. Blessings and hugs, my hub-friend.

      mackyi: I love to share, so thank you for enjoying it. I wonder, too, but I'm sure it will be well beyond my understanding!

      Ericdierker: How lovely that you have been there. God is a God of surprises and He often uses unexpected ways of getting our attention. I'm glad He did that for you and congratulations on succeeding after all that hard work - I know what it's like!

      kidscrafts: Yes, it was, and it's a pleasure to share.

      Frank Atanacio: Thank you, Frank. It was such an interesting place to visit. Happy memories.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 4 years ago from Shelton

      you come up with such fun to read hubs.. this was not only educational, but entertaining.. thank you for the share

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 4 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      Great info about the first mass printing! It was also quality printing at that time!

      Great pictures, Blossom!

      Thanks for sharing!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Thank you, I was just a punk kid, bicycling and eurailing through Europe on about 3.5 bucks a day, and I walked to this splendid place. For some reason I did not leave for several days, just awe struck at the beginning of knowledge for the masses. This hub does justice to the splendor which is the written Word for all to read. Perhaps this event inspired me to obtain a doctorate and become a minister.

    • mackyi profile image

      I.W. McFarlane 4 years ago from Philadelphia

      Thanks for sharing this bit of History on printing Blossom - I certainly find it rather educational. We have really come a long way in this business of printing. I wonder what the next step in printing is going to be in the near future?

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 4 years ago from southern USA

      Hi Blossom,

      How very interesting of the history of the first mass printing!

      Excellent write here. Voted up +++ and sharing

      God bless, Faith Reaper