The Invention of Printing

Category: Reading Education

Before the invention of printing, the number of manuscript books in Europe could be counted in the thousands. By 1500, after only 50 years of printing, there were more than 9 million books. The initial wildly competitive period of printing ran well into the 16th century, finally settling down around 1550, due to various controls designed to regulate its growth and impact.

The introduction of printing with moveable type in the Middle Ages was the beginning of the Information Explosion. Printing has been called the great German contribution to civilization; so much so that in its early days it was known as "the German art."

After its invention of printing with moveable type (about 1440-50) by Johannes Gutenberg (a goldsmith in Mainz), early examples were disseminated with a combination of missionary zeal and heightened commercial value, largely by Germans and largely along the trade routes of German merchants.

By 1500 there were presses in some 60 German towns. From there, printing spread to Denmark, Sweden, Rostock, Danzig, and Russia, though the first printer who went to Russia was apparently murdered before he could achieve anything. (Printing first began in Russia in 1552, with the help of a printer from Copenhagen.)

Over the next couple of centuries, pamphlets, newspapers and magazines began to flower.

During the 18th century, for example, the book trade in the American colonies began to flourish. Printing had begun in 1639 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, followed by Boston in 1674, Philadelphia in 1685, and New York City in 1693. However, it was difficult for colonial printers to produce large works because of a shortage of type. (Also, until 1769, American printers had to import their presses from England.) Most publications related to law books, primers, almanacs and theological works.

Books in the American colonies were sold in a variety of ways - by subscription, by printers, by hawkers and through selected shops. The first colonial bookseller is generally believed to have been Hezekiah Usher of Boston, who began selling books in his store around 1647.

As books became cheaper to print, it became worthwhile for the ordinary man to learn how to read. This especially involved such art forms as the prose novel, which appealed to the growing middle class rather than to the old-time clerical class of literates.

Middle-class readers soon began to delve into history, geography and science subjects in a way that would have amazed his ancestors who, unless they became involved in a war, never ventured more than twenty miles from their birthplace - in fact or in mind.

With development in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries of mechanical typesetting and power presses, printed material became cheaper still, so much so that by the 1940s one could buy a paperback book with the wages of a laborer's half-hour of work.

Now, in the 21st century, the widespread use of computers and communications satellites will inevitably bring about a greatly expanded Information Explosion, with even more impact than what occurred with the invention of printing.

Increasing one's reading speed is a necessity to cope with the explosion of information to which we are all exposed in today's information-based society.

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printing, books, presses, reading, information, printers, invention, book, printer

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