One of the best things about being a printer is recognizing the role our profession has played in the educational, political, and religious life of mankind. In the Middle Ages, before printing was invented, scribes made books by handcopying manuscripts in distinctive calligraphic lettering. A single book could take years to produce using this method, meaning that only the church and nobility could afford them.
Printing made it possible to produce whole books in weeks rather than years. This, in turn, enabled the rapid spread of knowledge, ideas, literature, and news, profoundly shaping the development of whole societies.
Many people believe that the invention of printing hinged on the development of the printing press. Derived from presses used to squeeze the oil from olives and juice from grapes, the first printing presses used a heavy screw to force a block of type against the paper below.
But that’s only half the story. It wasn’t until Johannes Gutenberg perfected the technology of movable type in 1458 that the printing press realized its full potential. Movable type – letters of the alphabet, numerals, and punctuation marks constructed of durable metal – could be assembled into a page of text, then disassembled and re-used to create a new page of text.