This excerpt of D.S.L, Cardwell’s “Turning Points in Western Technology: A Study of Technology, Science and History,” describes how the printing press was able to revolutionize the printing industry.
Before the printing press, the only way for a document to be copied was by scribes and copiers and the demand was too great for the scribes to keep up. For the printing press to be developed, two important materials would need to be available; paper and ink.
Johann Gutenberg is who most scholars accept as the inventor of the printing press. The metal used in Gutenberg’s model of the printing press was an alloy of lead, tin, and zinc. His model was also able to produce the print with very high precision. The invention of the printing press allowed the production rate of printed materials to drastically increase. Cardwell states that because he was able to significantly increase production he can be considered as the first “production engineer.”
Cardwell later creates a counter argument that another version of the printing press was developed in China and Korea. The Chinese made porcelain cast, like a rubber stamp, of each of the ideograms as they were needed. On the other hand, during the fifteenth century, the Koreans used metallurgy to create their version of the printing press.
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The Gutenberg Bible was the first book printed in the western world. The significance marks the transition out of the middle ages into the modern world. The Bible itself was not printed by Johann Gutenberg, it is only named the “Gutenberg Bible” because he was the man who invented the process of rapidly producing printed documents. There are only 48 of these Bibles that exist in partial and full form. The Smithsonian is one of the few places that houses one of these books and I have had the privilege of seeing this Bible firsthand. It truly is a marvel to look at a book that was printed so long ago and for it to still be in tact today.
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Following this link is a more in depth look at how the printing press was used in Asia.