The Invention That Changed The World.
What invention educated and liberated ordinary people to the dismay of tyrannical clergy and aristocrats?
Imagine a day when books had to be written and copied by hand. That was a time when only the rich could afford such a luxury. Imagine how long it would take to handwrite a 200-page book. Now imagine how long it would take to make multiple copies.
In the fifteenth century, the printing process began maturing. The most significant improvement to the art was the invention of movable type. Before movable type, words were carved on a block of wood, inked, and then the impression was stamped. Later, individual letters were engraved on pieces of metal or wood, which could be arranged in any order. Now a printer could set and reset the type, a significant improvement over wood blocks.
Around 1450, a man named John Gutenberg, of Germany, was using movable type. One of the earliest productions using this process was papal “Letters of Indulgence.” On August 24, 1456, the Gutenberg Bible was completed.
The art of printing now spread throughout Europe. By 1466 printing operations in Rome were madly rolling publications off the press and book publishing became a huge business.
The first printing press in America was set-up in Cambridge, September 25, 1639. The first volume to roll off that press was the Bay Psalm Book.
Printing changed the world in three ways:
First: Books became widely circulated. Before Gutenberg, education was primarily in the hands of a hierarchical church. After Gutenberg, books were no longer the exclusive property of the rich and artificially privileged. Handmade books were expensive and hard to find since they were seldom copied more than once or twice per year.
Second: Learning was available to the common man. Now that books were being printed in mass quantities, ordinary people could afford them. It’s no coincidence that the era which saw the revolt against tyranny, slavery, and serfdom came on the heels of widespread learning.
Third: Accuracy. Mistakes were so prevalent in the handmade books that it was hard to find two copies of the same book which matched.
The printing press, in my opinion, is one of the greatest inventions in human history. Ordinary people became readers. Before the printing press, the upper-class and orthodox religious leaders were able to use superstition to control the masses. When the people became readers, however, they were able to question these superstitions with educated reason, which is the death knell of fear. Printing ended the clerical monopoly on education.
Will Durant has well said,
“Printing…made available to the public –cheap manuals of instruction in religion, literature, history, and science; it became the greatest and cheapest of all universities, open to all…it paved the way for the Enlightenment, for the American and French Revolutions, for democracy. It made the Bible the common possession…It facilitated the international communication and co-operation of scientists. It affected the quality and character of literature by subjecting authors to the purse and taste of the middle class rather than the aristocratic and ecclesiastical patrons.”
Daniel Sheridan is an article and post contributor for Madison Liberty. More than that, he is a husband, father, pastor, historian, writer, teacher of the U.S. Constitution, storyteller, and public speaker.