The Printing Press and the Information Revolution

The advent of the printing press in the 15th century sparked an “information revolution” by vastly increasing the availability of text-based material and unlocking a trove of information that had previously been limited to the elite. Prior to the creation of the printing press, books and other documents were written entirely by hand, which made producing multiple copies of an item laborious, relatively inaccurate, and extremely expensive. Books were exclusive to the wealthy, literate population, while most of Europe was illiterate due to the rarity of text-based works.

Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press allowed printers to create many copies of books at a revolutionary rate, which decreased the cost of printed material and made books affordable to a much greater portion of the population. Along with faster printing speeds, the press printed with much greater accuracy due to the elimination of human variation that commonly occurred when different scribes handwrote the same books. Literacy rates increased as the presses spread throughout European cities and books became cheaper. People were exposed to a whole new world of educational, religious, and entertaining information and books were written on many new topics. Therefore, the press played a vital role in the academic explosion of the Renaissance because academic material was made available to a greater amount of people and innovations spread faster. Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press also permanently altered the religious environment of the period. Many religious texts were distributed and with more literate people, the longstanding interpretations held by the church were finally challenged.

Ultimately, Gutenberg’s seemingly innocent invention led to religious revolutions and aided in the intellectual advancement of Europe. Although more efficient printing machines have replaced the printing press, the press remains one of the most important inventions in human history.

Setting the type

Hand setting lines of type

Press

Vandercook press

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