Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.
It was in 1450 that the world of printing changed forever. In fact, politics, religion, and education turned upside down. Civilization was shaken up and turned on its ear. The entire Western world was changed forever.
Johannes Gutenberg, a German, took ideas the Chinese had been using for several hundred years and developed a machine that could mass produce books, pamphlets, and notices at an unheard of rate. Instead of taking weeks or months or even years that it traditionally took to reprint works, material could be made in hours or minutes. It came at a perfect time as unrest was spreading throughout Europe. His invention would revolutionize the world and send it hurtling forward into the future.
Typically, only Church leaders, those of the only branch of Christianity - the Catholic Church - had access to the printed works of the Church. Those who attended services never saw the written word of their Lord. They listened to sermons and quoted what was said to them. The Word of the Lord was never within their grasp, only within earshot. Complete trust was given to the ones presenting the message as the masses could not see the words for themselves. That meant the power was in the hands of the church leaders.
Martin Luther’s German translation of the Christian Bible was printed using the press invented by Gutenberg. This made the Bible available for the first time in history to all mankind and even in their own native tongue. The Words of God were available to anyone who was literate. The power shifted from the Church to the written Word.
This played a major role in helping the Protestant Reformation grow. More people began to question traditional practices of the Catholic Church and sought more practices that could be traced to the traditional Biblical works.
The printing press would be the exploding turn in the history of books that would change the world forever. For the first time, a book could be printed in hours and days instead of decades. A book could be printed more than once in a few days instead of one copy in a lifetime. That meant several things.
1. More books were available than ever before. In the past, books could take years to make. That meant few books were reprinted for public use. In fact, very few of the public could access these books as they were priceless and usually belongs to the Church or the wealthy.
2. The public had reason to learn to read. Typically, the average person could not read or could only read the basics that helped them survive in the world they lived in. People did not have to know how to read labels, signs, or much else unless it was something that helped them in their profession or in their travels. They didn't have to read as they were uneducated and even their religious works were read to them by the Church. Now they had reason to learn to read. More people began to become literate. While it wasn't a massive explosion, it was a significant increase that only grew as the years passed by.
3. Books became more public. They were no longer held behind protective doors and touched only by the elite. They could be touched by everyone which expanded their influence. Mindless control could not be had by the supreme powers of the time.
Political propaganda could be quickly spread throughout a land in such a way that politics became more open and public. The printing press allowed parties to get the word out quicker and to more people about their stances on topics. Most of the time, they used the printing press to share all sorts of horrid info on their opponents whether it was true or not.
Previously, politics was conducted with speeches and spreading the word verbally. The printing press allowed it to gain momentum by allowing printed matter to be passed from hand to hand.
Religious works were mass produced including sermons and commentary. The common people had access to them like never before. Books of poetry became more numerous. They were not repeated verbally in the courts. They were there for all to read.
The printing press shaped the world we live in today. Without it, history would be so different. How far would religious thought have spread? How much influence would governments have had over the people? How fast would minds be inspired to create the light bulb, automobile, or new surgical techniques?
Through the wonder of the printing press, ideas, romance, imagination, religion, and even freedom was discovered. The mass printing of Uncle Tom's Cabin was able to influence many people during the American Civil War in regard to slavery. Aristotle’s works went beyond dusty libraries and were available for the common man to obtain. The written word has drastically influenced history.
Books have come from clay tablets that were available only to the government or the rich to easy to carry paperbacks that fit in a pocket that everyone can have. Ideas flow from country to country. Discoveries are revealed and expounded on through the various books that can be found in coffee shops, libraries, and even our book shelves.
Jo Miller from Tennessee on September 11, 2017:
Very interesting article. I'm sure the people of that day did not realize what an impact this invention would have on our history. I sometimes think the internet is today's printing press and may someday be looked back upon as a very significant factor in the history of the world.