Many consider the printing press to be the most important invention in the history of the world. Imagine a world with no books, newspapers, or magazines. The printing press has allowed the widespread dissemination and storage of important ideas. Without it, the world’s societies would have been doomed to “reinvent the wheel” every few years. All other advancements in science, medicine, politics, technology, and religion have come about because of the printing press.
As far back as 3000 BC in early Mesopotamia, solid round seals were used to roll impressions onto clay tablets. From there, Chinese and Egyptian “printers” used small stamps to print images onto various materials — mostly cloth and silk. Asian printers later developed a method of printing larger texts and images using wood blocks.
In 1040 AD, a major printing milestone impacted the world when moveable type was first introduced by the Chinese. This method was characterized by the use of movable metal characters. However, because the Chinese character set (with no alphabet) consisted of several thousand individual characters, the method was not widely used.
By the 1400’s, European printers started using moveable type and in a very short time it was possible to produce printed books relatively cheaply. The Gutenberg Bible (1455) showcased an emerging revolution in global communication. For the first time, it was possible to influence the masses with important ideas, creating disruptive changes in geopolitical and religious realms.
Today, digital printing has amplified the reach and capabilities of publishers. With no need for printing plates, it is now possible to “print on demand.” This development allows the printing of published works as needed, and in quantities that conform to real demand.
Printing advancements have been so important to the world, writer and teacher Howard Rheingold once said: “You can’t have an industrial revolution, you can’t have democracies, you can’t have populations who can govern themselves until you have literacy. The printing press simply unlocked literacy.”
19th century abolitionist Wendell Phillips said: “What gunpowder did for war the printing press has done for the mind.Copyright 2014, Charles J. Chamberlain