When we think about major scientific innovations we tend to think about the internet, the smartphone, television, and other such modern technological advances. We don’t usually think about innovations that to us in this modern era seem trivial. However, there are innovations that require a great appreciation. One such innovation changed how information and knowledge was spread. And I’m not talking about the internet. I’m referring to Gutenberg’s printing press. Although many teenagers might forever hold a grudge against Johannes Gutenberg for making large school books so readily available, it is also the result of his innovation that has enabled nearly 500 million copies of Harry Potter to be enjoyed worldwide.
While Gutenberg didn’t invent movable type, he introduced a method of mechanical movable type printing which started the printing revolution in Europe. He improved on already existing presses through the use of a mould that allowed for the rapid production of lead alloy type pieces. Gutenberg’s innovation allowed for the mass production of printed books and was economically viable for printers and readers alike.
Unsurprisingly, the printing press had immense implications and its arrival ushered in an era of mass communication. Whereas beforehand a scribe had to painstakingly copy a document word for word – and frequently with errors – now a single printing press could create up to 3600 pages per day. Among the many immense benefits was a sharp increase in the literacy rates. This made it possible for those outside of the elite classes to obtain an education and bolstered the emerging middle class. The relatively unrestricted circulation of ideas also threatened the political and religious authorities, as evidenced by Martin Luther’s Reformation which relied on the printing press to easily disseminate his broadsheets that illuminated his positions.
Gutenberg’s advancement in mechanized printing was a vital innovation particularly for its time since it fed the emerging Renaissance – and since it greatly facilitated scientific publishing – it was a major catalyst for the scientific revolution.