The Incredible History of Printing...Short Version

The Incredible History of Printing...Short Version

Printing...At The Beginning

The history of printing is ancient, diverse, and bloody.  There is no other invention so integral to the advancement of mankind than printing.  Think about it for just a minute. What other invention lets you express yourself to the masses of the world without ever having to leave your neighborhood?

Of course, we all live in a digital age now.  It is a wonderful time to live with the technology available. However, without printing  to paper all of the books of history, before the computer, could man have built upon the knowledge of others to even invent the telephone?  I doubt it.  If we did make it, it would have taken a lot longer.  While many cultures and civilizations had forms of writing down by hand, things really got moving with the press.   

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Movable type printing started making it’s mark (so to speak) around the year 1450.  That is when Johannes Gutenberg, the print industry’s most famous founding father, invented the first printing press, although there was dispute over it.  There was even a lawsuit at the time between Gutenberg and his partner, Johann Fust.  Gutenberg lost.

Ever since, the printing press has been credited with inspiring ideas, fomenting revolutions, and toppling governments.  Printers have celebrated murder (and condemned it), changed hearts & minds across the globe, and have sparked imaginations around the world ever since.  Yet the printed page is so much more than what you find by the physical contents of the binding and paper.  

Printing contributes to man’s greatest intellectual heights with shared ideas, abstract thought, and collaboration from afar. Are we not still able to read H.G. Wells, Mark Twain, or Jules Verne even after their deaths so long ago?  And we do not have to decipher some ancient handwriting to do so.  Printing has also led some to utter depravity, despicable wretchedness, or lady justice. How did printing accomplish all of this?  By dragging literacy rates through the roof and leading to the Enlightenment, among the rich and ruling classes.  

Literacy did take time to gravitate downwards to the average man or woman, and still does today for some parts of the world.  However, that did not stop printers from expanding their talents into different typesets, inks, and more.  Printing the word to the page took hold like a python and circled the globe.  While China and others had printing to paper long before Gutenberg, it is the movable type printing press which revolutionized printing for everyone.  We owe so much gratitude to those print masters that came before us.  Those people that risked their lives throughout history to pass down stories, facts, ideas, imagination to the public. 

When Paul Revere created his image of the Boston Massacre to rile up public sentiment against the British, he knew his life might be forfeit.  As a printer himself, Benjamin Franklin knew the printing press was the only way to inspire his fellow countrymen to think, and be aware.  Duty compelled both men (and many others) to inform the public, raise awareness for unfair taxes, and strike out a new path for a new country. 

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Prior to the press...

Before Johannes Gutenberg started creating commercial products for the Catholic Church on his press, creating a manuscript, or book, by hand was painstaking work that not everyone could perform.  These hand-made books were truly works of art and needed a special person with a steady hand.  The calligraphy captured in these old tomes is exquisite to behold for sure.  However, very few people saw them.  Written-by-hand texts and scrolls existed long before Gutenberg, but few people were literate enough to read writing of any sort.  It was also not thought of as a needed skill for the majority of the public in most countries.  Back then it was good to be the king.  We have come a long way in a short time. 

Today, we use electronic computer boards, integrated circuits, and a whole lot of wire to get our “printing press” humming.  No need to crank the screw to bring down the typeface.  Everything is digital, electric, and fast.  Today’s production printers print over a hundred pages per minute, in color, both sides.  I would say that is a long way from Gutenberg.  

Mass printing may have started with Guttenberg and his press.  Recording our history for posterity has been a human trait since we learned to think.  The first “artists” drew their masterpieces on rock walls in inks we would probably not want to know about today.  Later came their descendants using carved tools upon rock tablets.  First needing to make the tool, then producing a message for history upon their tablet.  For all time, right?  Think of the Rosetta Stone.  A message passed through time allowing us a glimpse to an ancient history we may have missed without it.  The ability to pass along our history, our truth, is priceless.  We should all embrace our own unique history.

As printers ourselves, The Document Group loves talking the history of printing, or anything printing really.  We love the thought of our small contribution to this wonderful industry.  We invite you to join us in honoring those printers who came before us, printed a new road through the wilderness of civilization, and shined the light of knowledge upon the world.

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