Johannes Gutenberg: life of the inventor of the printing press marked by failures



Johann Gutenberg

(c. 1400—1468) German printer



inventor of printing. He was a native of Mainz. In 1448 he borrowed money, probably for developing his printing process. He printed the Mazarin Bible (q.v.) and other works.

Subjects: Literature

Reference entries

Printer of German origin, Johannes Gutenberg is the inventor of the printing press, which made it possible to disseminate knowledge in Europe via books, such as the Bible.

Short biography of Johannes Gutenberg – Johannes Gensfleisch, aka Gutenberg, born probably in 1397 in Mainz in the Holy Roman Empire, is a German printer known for the invention of movable metallic type.

Documentation is lacking to know precisely the life of Gutenberg. From 1434 to 1444, his family moved to Strasbourg . Gutenberg, already in his thirties, apprenticed there to become a goldsmith . Thanks to the techniques he acquired, he probably began his work on the printing press . Around 1448, he returned to Mainz. At this time, Gutenberg most certainly already created the typography and its movable printing type, which will mark a turning point in Europe. In his hometown, Gutenberg seeks funding for his revolutionary project. In 1450, he persuaded Johann Fust, a wealthy banker, to help him finance his project. They thus become associates.

Origins and formation

Johannes Gutenberg was born in Mainz around 1397 into a well-to-do upper middle class family and professional goldsmith. The family moved to Strasbourg in the 1430s and Gutenberg was trained in goldsmith trades. It is also formed during chasing and mastery of alloys . Its bases allow it to design the printed characters. In 1448, Gutenberg returned to Mayenne, where he borrowed money from his cousin, Arnold Gelthus, in order to build a press.

The invention of mobile printing

In 1450, Gutenberg persuaded a wealthy banker, Johann Fust, to help him with his project. The banker then lent him 800 florins , a considerable sum for the time. Fust becomes his partner and drafts a binding contract for Gutenberg. The banker will not ask for any interest, but as collateral for the mortgage, Gutenberg will give up his press and his tools. The printer perfected the technique of producing metal characters, the hand press and printing ink. Gutenberg begins by printing small documents, poems.

Gutenberg’s Bible, the first work printed in Europe

In order to have a return on investment, Johannes Gutenberg and Johann Fust decide to print a book whose serial printing would pay off. At the time, the only work capable of such success was the Bible . Between 1452 and 1455 it was printed in around 180 copies, but only 48 have been preserved, and 12 are printed on parchment. Unfortunately, the printing of the book did not meet with the expected success and several Bibles remained on the shelves.

Gutenberg’s trial and the start of the ruin

This failure makes Johann Fust, having invested in the company, furious with Gutenberg. In 1455, the banker sued him, demanding the restitution of the sums paid. The court decides in favor of the banker. Gutenberg is ruined and must give him his equipment. Fust obtains the management of the workshop and the pledge of the press. The company then takes its name. Two years later, Fust teamed up with Peter Schöffer, a Gutenberg worker, and printed the Mainzer Psalterium . The quality of the work then brought a certain notoriety to the two men.

Gutenberg’s invention of printing changes the face of Europe

Johannes Gutenberg, dispossessed of his equipment but not of his invention , tries for his part to relaunch a printing workshop, specializing in administrative printing. In 1459, he participated in a new edition of the Bible. His work being undated and produced anonymously, it remains difficult to certify documents from his workshop. It is possible that the Catholicon dictionary , printed in 300 copies in Mainz in 1460, is from him.

End of life and death of Gutenberg

Living modestly, Gutenberg was finally ennobled in 1465. Appointed a gentleman to the Archbishop of Mainz, Adolphe II of Nassau, he then received an annual pension . Three years later, on February 3, 1468 , Gutenberg died in Mainz. His invention causes a great upheaval, since the printed book will allow the acceleration of the diffusion of ideas in Europe, and thus promotes the cultural revolution during the Renaissance .


1397: Birth of Johannes Gutenberg

It was at the end of the 14th century, most certainly during the year 1397, that Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg, better known as Gutenberg, was born in Mainz in the Holy Roman Empire. Illustrious German printer, Gutenberg revolutionized the world of printing thanks to the invention of movable metal characters, giving rise to printing. The Bible is the first book printed “in series” between 1452 and 1454.

Around 1448: Gutenberg revolutionized printing

It would be wrong to say that Gutenberg invented the printing press. Historians have proven that the printing press already existed, especially in Korea in the 14th century, in a different form. However, Gutenberg did invent the typographical process of printing. He had the idea of ​​using movable lead characters. More solid, these are struck upside down and facilitate the work. Combined with the manual press system, this method speeds up printing output. After several years, Gutenberg gave birth to his first printed work: the Bible. His invention marked the birth of printing in Europe, a major turning point in our history, since typography was decisive in the dissemination of texts and knowledge.

February 23, 1455: First impression of Gutenberg’s bible

On February 23, 1455, Johannes Gutenberg succeeded in mass-printing the first book in Europe with movable metal characters: the Gutenberg bible. After several years of research and work, Gutenberg manages to develop a system allowing him to print in series. Gutenberg’s bible then consists of pages each comprising 42 lines. There are less than 40 copies of this Bible left today.

February 3, 1468: Death of Johannes Gutenberg

Johannes Gutenberg probably died on February 3, 1468 in Mainz. Little known to his contemporaries, his invention nevertheless brought him the glory and the title of archbishop, but also made him know many problems. The invention of printing is considered a major event of the Renaissance, and helped to change the face of the world by allowing knowledge to be disseminated on a large scale.