Who Really Invented the Printing Press?

When the printing press was really invented is shrouded in controversy.  Quite often the story is told of how Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1456 by producing the first printed Bible.  The truth is that the answer to this question really depends on who you ask and how deep you want to dig.  

593 AD The First Printing Press - In China?

Chinese Printing Press
These wooden blocks
printed newspapers
That's right.  The first ever historical record of a printing press is given to us by the Chinese.  It consisted of a solid piece of wood with Chinese characters carved in relief.  No doubt these pressman spent many days making these blocks.  

Amazingly, the presses that used these blocks were used to print newspapers!  In fact, there are still surviving copies of these papers, the most famous being the Diamond Sutra which dates to 868 AD.   It is a complete book containing sacred writings relating the Buddhism and is located in the British Museum.

1041 AD The invention of movable type.

Hold on a minute.  You are probably saying, "Wasn't it Gutenberg that invented movable type much later?"  The answer surprisingly is no.  That clarification will come a little later.  Once again, the Chinese were already pioneering this technology a few hundred years earlier.  It wasn't computer-to-plate, but it was probably one of the greatest steps forward in the invention of modern printing in the span of about 500 years.

Credited with inventing movable type is Bi Sheng (990-1051 AD).  His movable type was made from fired clay.  Movable type which was more durable came in 1490 when bronze was used by Hua Sui.  In this respect, Gutenberg preceded the Chinese by developing metal movable type.

1439 AD - Gutenberg "invents" the printing press.

A replica of the printing press
invented by Gutenberg
It is no doubt true that the Chinese had little to no influence on Gutenberg's invention.  However a real production printing press required materials beyond what had already been invented to mass produce books.  Being a goldsmith, Gutenburg already had the know how to produce move able type that was more durable.  Type that was produced from a metal allow was far more durable and could made a practical system that was suitable for mass production.

So the conclusion is that Gutenburg is more accurately credited with the technique for the printing press.  Presses in simpler form existed already for hundreds of years.  However his technique gave the real impetus required to revolutionize our modern age.

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A Short History Of Offset Printing
The Printing Press

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