Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Why printing?

Why was printing invented? Because of the plague. Between 1347 and 1400 waves of plague ravaged Europe, decimating the population by about 30 percent. Consequently there was a labor shortage and salaries rose.

This sparked an intensive demand for technological inventions, and printing, or more precisely moveable type, was one of them. The tedious and time consuming manual copying of documents no longer made economic sense when Hans Genssefleisch von Mentz, also known as Gutenberg, around 1400 started experimenting with type.

Fonts were just a rudimentary idea of individually carved wood blocks, but the enterpreneurial Gutenberg and a few skilled colleagues founded a financing partnership, which rised substantial capital to develop the new technology of mass-produced reusable metal font types.

It ended up taking 10 years until the venture was able to print the first documents using the new technology and sell them for a profit.

Could Gutenberg repeat his feat today?


  1. Gutenberg's real innovation was the alloy of lead, tin and antimony that yielded a hard, durable metal with a low surface tension when molten (to flow into tiny serifs in the matrix). Movable type existed for centuries in China and metal movable type in Korea. If labor was plentiful and cheap, printing might still have flourished since the alternative was still slow and far more labor/skill intensive. It might have taken longer to catch on.

    By the way, the financing partnership was a disaster for Gutenberg. He ended up losing his equipment and his fortune to Fust.

  2. Yes, you are correct, thank you. We have some details in our EI paper on page 3.

  3. Thank you for both the history information and the PDF.

  4. "Why I Believe Printers Were Sent From Hell To Make Us Miserable" Copyright © 2010 Matthew Inman