There is a before and after for humanity after the invention of the printing press at the end of the 15th century. The German Johannes Gutenberg he managed to make one of the most important discoveries in history with it. Before their use, in the Middle Ages, the only way to write books was by hand and the production of several copies was carried out by the arduous procedure of writing them by dictation. The result was unique, expensive and very limited diffusion works, only within the reach of a literate elite.
The printing press played a key role in the advancement of the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation and the Age of Enlightenment, to the point of speaking of the era Gutenberg for its significance. Considered the father of graphic design Y the millennial man, the German craftsman was able to synthesize and shape the existing mechanical elements and turn them into an economical and practical product. To Gutenberg we owe the creation of the first printed book of mass circulation: the 42-line bible and the vital impulse that it offered to humanity thanks to its discovery.
However, much of the life of Johannes Gutenberg It is shrouded in mystery despite being the architect of facilitating the expansion of knowledge and making it accessible to ordinary mortals. The isolated events that dot his life and of which there is a record speak of an enterprising craftsman who had to reinvent himself several times in his life after failing in some of his businesses and who died poor and possibly blind.
Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg, his real name, was born in Mainz (Germany) between the years 1394 and 1404. At the time of the celebration in his hometown of the Gutenberg Festival in 1900, the official birthday was chosen, although symbolic, on June 24, 1400.
Gutenberg was the second of three children of the merchant Friedrich Friele Gensfleisch zur Laden, who worked as a goldsmith for the Bishop of Mainz, and of his second wife, Else Wyrich zum Gutenberg. Johannes decided to change his original surname Gensfleisch, the meaning of which resembles goose meat, for the maiden of his mother and with whom he passed to posterity.
Almost nothing is known of his childhood or youth, except for a local record that indicates that Johannes Gutenberg He was a goldsmith’s apprentice while living in Mainz. Almost certainly he assisted his father in his work for the Church and through his later work, with complete security in his training he learned to read and write in both German and Latin. There is also a record that when a revolt of craftsmen broke out in Mainz against the noble class in 1428, the entire family moved to what is now Strasbourg, France.
It was a letter written by him in March 1434 that gives the clue again by indicating that he lived with his mother’s relatives in Strasbourg. At that time he began his experiments with the printing press, after a failed business of polished metal mirrors. Gutenberg reportedly became involved in a company that made polished metal mirrors to sell to pilgrims attending a festival in the German city of Aachen to view the collection of relics of Emperor Charlemagne. Mirrors were believed to capture the sacred light, otherwise invisible, issued by religious relics. However, when the festival was delayed for more than a year due to flooding, the money already borrowed and spent to make the mirrors could not be repaid.
To bridge the economic doldrums, Gutenberg is believed to have promised to tell them a secret to their lenders that would make them rich. Many historians think that Gutenberg’s secret was his idea of the printing press, presumably based on a wine press, using movable metal types.
Historians think that Johannes Gutenberg revealed the secret of his printing press in a book strangely titled Aventure and Art (Business and art). It is not known whether he had actually tried, or had any success, movable type printing at that time. However, in 1448, and again moved to Mainz, he started to set up a printing press that became the first movable type in operation with the help of a loan of 800 guilders.
The oldest surviving manuscript from Gutenberg’s first press is that of a fragment of the poem The sibyl’s prophecy, which was made using the oldest Gutenberg typeface. The page, which includes a planetary table for astrologers, was found in the late 19th century and donated to the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz in 1903.
Although movable type had been used in Asia hundreds of years before, the innovation of Gutenberg it was the development of a system of cast iron and metal alloys that facilitated production. One of the first projects undertaken by Gutenberg’s new press was the printing of thousands of indulgences for the Catholic church – instructions for reducing the amount of penance one must do to be forgiven for various sins.
While printers until then used movable type made from ceramic or wooden blocks for centuries, Gutenberg is credited with inventing practical movable metal type printing. Instead of using individually hand-carved wooden blocks, Gutenberg made metal molds of each letter or symbol into which he could pour the molten metal. Large quantities of each cast metal letter could be produced much faster than carved wooden letters. In this way, several different pages could be printed using the same letters.
In December 1452 Johannes Gutenberg he was heavily in debt and unable to repay the loan he received, so a new agreement was drawn up that made the lender a partner in Gutenberg’s business. Years later, in 1455, and faced with the non-payment of the debt, the lender filed a lawsuit and, although the judicial records are incomplete, it is thought that in the days in which the trial took place Gutenberg was able to print his masterpiece, the 42-line bible, known as the Gutenberg Bible. The Gutenberg Bibles were limited to just 42 lines per page by the size of the font, which while large, also made the text extremely easy to read. This ease of reading proved especially popular with the clergy.
In the end, the court ruled against him and allowed the funder to seize the printing press as collateral, which continued to print the 42-line Gutenberg Bibles, managing to publish around 200 copies, of which only 22 exist today.
Virtually bankrupt, Gutenberg is believed to have opened a smaller printing press in the city of Bamberg around 1459, but after 1460 his trail disappears again, so it appears that he abandoned the printing press entirely, perhaps as a result of his blindness. But what is written is that in January 1465 the Archbishop of Mainz recognized Gutenberg’s achievements by granting him the title of Hofmann, a knight of the court. The honor provided him with a continuing monetary stipend and wardrobe, as well as duty-free food and wine.
Johannes Gutenberg died on February 3, 1468 in Mainz. He was buried in the Franciscan church cemetery with little recognition and when both the church and the cemetery were destroyed in World War II his grave was lost.
On this day in 2000, the Gutenberg Museum in his hometown opened a retrospective exhibition in his honor. But the figure of Gutenberg is still alive and not only in the multitude of statues around the world but, above all, in the continuous tribute that Project Gutenberg represents, the oldest digital library, which contains more than 60,000 free electronic books.