Gutenberg, Johannes (Gensfleisch zur Laden zum)


Gutenberg, Johannes (Gensfleisch zur Laden zum)

biographical name

(born c. 1395, Mainz—died probably Feb. 3, 1468, Mainz) German inventor of a method of printing from movable type. Born to a patrician family in Mainz, he apparently worked at such crafts as goldsmithing and gem cutting in Mainz and Strasbourg and was experimenting with printing by 1438. He obtained backing in 1450 from the financier Johann Fust (c.. 1400–66); Fust's impatience and other factors led to Gutenberg's loss of his establishment to Fust in 1455. Gutenberg's masterpiece, and the first book ever printed from movable type, is the “Forty-Two-Line” Bible, completed no later than 1455. A magnificent Psalter was published in 1457, after the loss of his press. The only other works still attributed to him are minor. His invention's unique elements included a mold, with which type could be cast precisely and in large quantities; a type-metal alloy; a new press, derived from those used in winemaking, papermaking, and bookbinding; and an oil-based printing ink. None of these features existed in Chinese or Korean printing, in the existing European technique of stamping letters on various surfaces, or in woodblock printing. Gutenberg's invention, seminal to the course of Western civilization, remained the source of the basic elements of typesetting for 500 years.

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