Cardwell “Printing Press”

In the excerpt on printing from D.S.L. Cardwell’s “Turning Points in Western Technology: A Study of Technology, Science and History,” Cardwell describes how the process of publishing books was revolutionized by the printing press.

Before the idea for a printing press could come about, two very important technologies had to be invented: namely paper and printing ink. Additionally, the “principle of the press” needed to be revised and the issue of creating a cheap and accurate type had to be addressed. Once these technologies and considerations were accounted for, it is possible that the need for a printing press arose out of an increasing demand for books, a shortage of scribes and copiers, and/or the prohibitive cost of creating a stamp elaborate enough to print a whole page.

Johann Gutenberg is accepted by most scholars as the inventor of the printing press. It is estimated that a “twenty-fold increase” in the production of books followed Gutenberg’s invention. For the former reason, Cardwell argues that Gutenberg may be regarded as the “very first production engineer.”

The following video details the process Gutenberg followed in assembling and using his printing press:

Cardwell makes an important note that the printing press was not the first occurrence of printing technology: simple printing techniques had existed long before the printing press in the form of the Royal seal, punches used in metalworking, signet rings, and rubber stamps. Additionally, it is possible that similar printing technology was invented somewhat earlier, and certainly independently, in China and Korea. The elaborate nature of Chinese script required a different form to Gutenberg’s printing press, and the likely solution is that porcelain casts were created for each Chinese ideogram when required. Scholars have also considered that cast metal type has been used as a form of printing in Korea, and was likely invented during the fifteenth century.

Word Count: 295
(not including video caption)

Additional resources:

“Chinese Invention: World’s First Known Movable Type Printing”

In this brief article, author A. Sutherland rejects Johann Gutenberg as the inventor of “movable type printing” and narrows the description of Gutenberg’s invention to “movable type mechanical printing.” Sutherland goes on to explain that Bi Sheng, a Chinese inventor, developed the first known system for “moveable type printing” during the Song dynasty, over four centuries prior to Gutenberg. Bi Sheng’s system involved carving individual Chinese characters onto clay pieces, which would subsequently be hardened and made durable in fire. These hardened clay pieces could then easily be attached to and removed from an iron plate using glue. Unfortunately, Bi Sheng’s system never fully caught on, on account of the size and complexity of the Chinese character system.

Word Count: 117

“The Gutenberg Bible”

The Gutenberg Bible is the first sizable book printed using Gutenburg’s printing press. One of five complete copies in the U.S. is on display at the Harry Ransom Center. If you follow the provided link you can find more information on Gutenberg and the Gutenberg Bible.

Word Count: 47

3 thoughts on “Cardwell “Printing Press””

  1. Dear Rae,
    Great summary of D.S.L. Cardwell’s “Turning Points in Western Technology: A Study of Technology, Science and History,”! I really appreciate the video about Gutenberg’s printing press you included. Do you agree that the printing press is what revolutionized book printing? It all started somewhere, for me I think the invention of paper in 200 AD China is what revolutionized book printing. Without paper, Gutenberg’s press would have never existed.


  2. I really like how this blog covered the various places that some form printing press popped up. You mentioned that the printing press didn’t catch on at first in China due to the complex characters, which got me thinking when it made another appearance in China because printing today is widely available everywhere. I wonder if the concept was picked up again off previous Chinese designs, or if Gutenberg’s press design diffused eastward.

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