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October 22, 2010

This Research Project will be based upon factual information from Encyclopaedia Britannica On-Line, The Oxford Companion to British History and various other sources that will be listed in order of use.  All efforts have been made to produce a testimony to printing in a light-hearted fashion and therefore the inclusion of video transcripts, Google pictures and photographs depicting the progression of the printing press will hopefully add interest.

The scientific revolution that would later challenge the entrenched truths supported by the Church was also largely a consequence of print technology.  As readily available books helped expand the collective body of knowledge, indexes and cross-referencing emerged as ways of managing volumes of information and of making creative associations between seemingly unrelated ideas.

Innovations in the accessibility of knowledge and the structure of human thought that attended the rise of print in Europe also influenced art, literature, philosophy and politics.  The explosive innovation that characterized the Renaissance was amplified, if not in part generated by, the printing press.  The rigidly fixed class structure which determined one's status from birth based on family property ownership began to yield to the rise of an intellectual middle class.  The possibility of changing one's status infused the less privileged with ambition and a hunger for education.
The Columbian Press

The Impact of the Printing Press in Europe:

Before the invention of printing, the number of manuscript books in Europe could be counted in thousands.  By 1500, after only 50 years of printing, there were more than 9,000,000 books.  These figures indicate the impact of the press, the rapidity with which it spread, the need for an artificial script, and the vulnerability of written culture up to that time.

Printing has been called the great German contribution to civilization.  After its invention (about 1440–50) by a goldsmith of Mainz, Johannes Gutenberg, printing quickly spread to the other great trading centres, Basel (1466), Nürnberg (1470), and Augsburg (1472).  By 1500 there were presses in some 60 German towns, including Lübeck (1475), the head of the Hanseatic League. From there, printing spread to Denmark, Sweden, Rostock, Danzig, and Russia.

The Gutenberg Press
It may be said that book printing, after its birth in medieval Germany, was carried to maturity in humanistic Italy.  The printing press reached Italy very early (1462–63) and by 1500, Venice had no fewer than 150 presses; and two Venetian printers exercised a decisive influence on the form of the book: Nicolas Jenson, an outstanding typographer who perfected the roman typeface in 1470, and Aldus Manutius, the greatest printer-publisher of his time.

In 1476 William Caxton established a press at Westminster, the first printing press in England.  He printed more than 100 books in his lifetime, books which were known for their craftsmanship and careful editing.  He was also the translator of many of the books he published, using his knowledge of French, Latin and Dutch.

William Caxton
In 1638 in America, Harvard received the first printing press that the colonies had seen.  The very first printing press in the nation was used at the Cambridge Press, founded in 1639.

At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the mechanics of the hand-operated Gutenberg-style press were still essentially unchanged, although new materials in its construction, amongst other innovations, had gradually improved its printing efficiency.  By 1800, Lord Stanhope had built a press completely from cast iron which reduced the force required by 90%, while doubling the size of the printed area.


Paper first penetrated Europe as a commodity from the 12th century onward through Italian ports that had active commercial relations with the Arab world and also, doubtless, by the overland route from Spain to France. Papermaking techniques apparently were rediscovered by Europeans through an examination of the material from which the imported commodity was made; possibly the secret was brought back in the mid 13th century by returning crusaders or merchants in the Eastern trade. Papermaking centres grew up in Italy after 1275 and by the 14th century a number of paper mills existed in Europe, particularly in Spain, Italy, France, and Germany. The invention of printing in the 1450s brought a vastly increased demand for paper. Through to the 18th century the papermaking process remained essentially unchanged, with linen and cotton rags furnishing the basic raw materials.

In 1800 a book was published that launched development of practical methods for manufacturing paper from wood pulp and other vegetable pulps. Several major pulping processes were gradually developed that relieved the paper industry of dependency upon cotton and linen rags and made modern large-scale production possible. These developments followed two distinct pathways. In one, fibres and fibre fragments were separated from the wood structure by mechanical means; and in the other, the wood was exposed to chemical solutions that dissolved and removed lignin and other wood components, leaving cellulose fibre behind. Made by mechanical methods, ground-wood pulp contains all the components of wood and thus is not suitable for papers in which high whiteness and permanence are required. Chemical wood pulps such as soda and sulphite pulp are used when high brightness, strength, and permanence are required. Ground-wood pulp was first made in Germany in 1840, but the process did not come into extensive use until about 1870. Soda pulp was first manufactured from wood in 1852 in England, and in 1867 a patent was issued in the United States for the sulphite pulping process.

Prior to the invention of the paper machine, paper was made one sheet at a time by dipping a frame or mould with a screened bottom into a vat of stock. Lifting the mould allowed the water to drain, leaving the sheet on the screen. The sheet was then pressed and dried. The size of a single sheet was limited to the size of frame and mould that a man could lift from a vat of stock.

In 1798 Nicolas-Louis Robert in France constructed a moving screen belt that would receive a continuous flow of stock and deliver an unbroken sheet of wet paper to a pair of squeeze rolls.

Although the paper machine symbolizes the mechanization of the paper industry, every step of production, from the felling of trees to the shipment of the finished product, has also seen a dramatic increase in mechanization, thus reducing hand labour. As papermaking operations require the repeated movement of large amounts of material, the design and mechanization of materials-handling equipment has been and continues to be an important aspect of industry development. Although modern inventions and engineering have transformed an ancient craft into a highly technical industry, the basic operations in papermaking remain the same to this day.

Printing and Publishing Landmarks:

The Gutenberg Bible

c 594: The Chinese began to practice printing from a negative relief. Their method of rubbing off impressions from a wood block spread along the caravan routes to the West. From China also came the invention of paper which was to provide the ideal surface for printing.
c 1400: The technique of printing with wooden blocks arrived in Europe from the Far East.

c 1450: Johann Gutenberg adapted the screw printing press from the wine presses which had been used in the Rhine Valley since the days of the Roman Empire. He used a recently perfected oil-based ink and devised a mould of metal prism matrices, punch-stamped typeface moulds and invented a functional metal alloy to mould the type.

c 1460: Printer's ink invented only fifteen years after the first use of oil paints for pictures. It had to be able to stick onto a metal surface and it was based on heat-bodied linseed oil, kept for a year to allow the mucilage to settle. Resin may then have been added. The black pigment would have made from the soot collected from burning pitch and then roasted it several times the get rid of the tarry oils. Many printers were still making their own ink as late as 1850.

1500s: Printing provided the first mass medium vehicle for advertising and in the 1500s printed handbills began to replace the town criers.

1600s: The screw press was improved for the first time since Gutenberg's day with the introduction of springs to aid the platen to lift rapidly. It was then able to print a maximum of 250 impressions an hour. Newspapers began to appear. The relationship between advertising and newspapers enabled both to flourish from the early 17th century. The printed medium changed advertising from announcements to persuasion.

1799: Printing by lithography was invented by an Austrian printer Alois Senefelder. He found that he could print from the flat, smooth, surface of fine-grained limestone. In the 19th century lithography became the preferred method for reproducing quality illustrations for books and magazines in both colour and monochrome.

1803: Machine made paper begins to replace hand-made paper. The first practical paper machine was invented by Nicholas Louis Robert at the Essonnes Mill, France, but the patent was taken to England where the first efficient machines were set up. Paper was mainly produced from linen and cotton rags. Esparto grass was also used.

1804: The third Earl of Stanhope (1753-1816) replaced the wooden screw press, virtually unchanged since Gutenberg's time, with an iron framed lever press. The press used by Andrew Bent, now at the TMAG, to publish his Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen's Land Advertiser in the early 1820s is Stanhope's improved model of 1807.

1805: Lord Stanhope also introduced stereotyping, which made the saving of pages of type for reprinting a commercial proposition. Pages of type for future reprints were preserved using plaster or metal matrices from which a stereotype could be cast, instead of having to reset the text.

1814: Frederich Koenig's steam printing machine with rollers was adopted by The Times, London, in 1820, and raised the output of a printing press from 300 to 1100 copies an hour.

1822: The letter founding machine, invented by Dr William Church and a forerunner to the linotype machine, raised the number of letters that could be cast daily from 3,000 / 7,000 to 12,000 / 20,000.

1827: The New Press of Applegath and Cowper enabled The Times to produce 5,000 copies an hour from a single machine. Prior to this rows of Stanhope presses had been used.

1829: The stereotyping process improved. Clumsy plaster and metal matrices were replaced by papier mache ones, reducing labour, weight and bulk in storage. 1831 - French engineer Gaveaux designed a two-cylinder version of the New Press which handled the paper better and further increased production.

1840: American Richard March Hoe developed a revolving perfecting press which could turn out 20,000 impressions an hour. The manufacture of paper from wood pulp was accomplished this year and within a decade production had spread everywhere. The outward appearance and 'feel' of paper was altered and it became much cheaper to produce, which was particularly advantageous to newspaper production.

1846: Hoe developed the first version of a rotary press. He found a way to fit the type around the cylinder which was inked by automated rollers while four smaller rollers brought the sheets of paper in contact with it. This raised the number of impressions that could be taken from 22,000 to 24,000 an hour.

1853: Claude Genoux and Nicholas Serriere improved the system for making page moulds on papier mache flongs, as they came to be called. A flong prepared from flat type could be curved to permit moulding of the cylindrical type needed for a rotary press. Flongs were used until recent times when the introduction of offset presses and computer technology revolutionised the printing process.

1854: James Gordon Bennett in his New York Herald developed a method using a metal plate impression of the type rather than the type itself.

1859: Photo-lithography. A French lithographer, Firmin Gillot, developed a new method for etching metal plates. In 1872 his son invented zincography, which combined photography with etching so that the resulting picture could be sized up and down as required. But it was limited to uniform black on white. By 1880 a method of producing intermediate tones was devised by a system of dots of different sizes. By the end of the century photo-lithography had become a new branch of the journalistic profession. Photo-lithographic 'block' making in zinc was performed until photo-composition in the 1970s.

1863: William Bullock perfected a method of feeding paper into a machine continuously instead of by sheets. He also incorporated Bennett's metal plate system and the use of stereotypes, shaped to fit the rollers, instead of hand set type.

1885: Linotype and Monotype machines were developed. Between 1815 and 1871 seventy attempts had been made to create a machine capable of setting type and adjusting the spacing of words. A machine that did this work, the Linotype was developed by Ottmar Mergenthaler in America who was inspired by a punch-cutting machine invented in Milwaukee by Linn Boyd Benton.

1889: Hippolyte Marinoni at the Paris Exposition demonstrated a rotary press which turned a roll of paper back on its path, enabling successive sheets of large and small size to be printed on both sides and then cut and folded into piles of completed newspapers, the whole operation performed at great speed.

1890: By now there was a wide choice of fast rotary presses to choose from. Each had its own specialised technology. The great advances in newspaper production technology were over until the development of web offset printing and photo-composition in the 1970s.


The idea of assembling a composite printing surface from small, moveable pieces of type had been developed centuries earlier in the Far East, but unlike papermaking, there is no evidence of a slow diffusion of this technology to Europe. Printing appears to have evolved independently several times; all modern printing, however, derives from Gutenberg. In distinguishing his invention from earlier Chinese and Korean printing, most scholars cite the introduction of the font: the set of unique steel master letters, called punches, used to strike matrices, from which lead letters, or types, were cast in large numbers using an adjustable mould. This underlying multiplicative process, not of printed pages but of metal types, was at the core of typography in the West until the twentieth century.

Typography originated after the invention of printing from movable type in the mid 15th century. The three major type families in the history of Western printing are roman, italic, and black letter (Gothic). All had their origin in the scripts of the calligraphers whose work was ultimately replaced by printing. In the succeeding centuries typographers have created some 10,000 typefaces (a complete set of letter forms of a particular design). Depending on the style of their letters, typefaces are categorized as old style, transitional, and modern. Commonly used typefaces include Caslon, Baskerville, Bodoni, Garamond, and Times New Roman.


Paper, type, ink and rollers are the materials that go into the printing press, one of the most revolutionary inventions in the history of the world. From the time of the Gutenberg bible in the fifteenth century to the mass-produced books of the twenty-first century, the printing press has permitted ideas and knowledge to spread, transforming every aspect of everyday life. At the same time, printing has helped to shape alterations in social relations made possible by industrial development and economic transformations. By means of books, pamphlets, and the press, information of all kinds has reached all levels of society in most countries.

Print remains an extraordinarily powerful medium influencing thought, belief and culture and has given little ground to the power of other modern media. In view of the contemporary competition over some of its traditional functions, it has been suggested by some observers that printing is destined to disappear. On the other hand, this point of view has been condemned as unrealistic by those who argue that information in printed form offers particular advantages different from those of other audio or visual media. Printed texts and documents, though they require a longer time to be produced, are permanently available and so permit reflection. Print is directly accessible. Far from being fated to disappear, printing seems more likely to experience an evolution marked by its increasingly close association with these various other means by which information is placed at the disposal of humankind.

Reference List:
Crompton, SW 2004, The printing press: transforming power of technology, Chelsea House, Philadelphia.

Eisenstein, EL 1979, The printing press as an agent of change: communications and cultural transformations in early modern Europe, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Man, J 2002, The Gutenberg revolution: the story of a genius and an invention that changed the world, Review, London.

McMurtrie, DC 1943, The book: the story of printing and bookmaking, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Steinberg, SH 1961, Five hundred years of printing, Penguin, Harmondsworth, UK.

Websites for Images:

‘Antique books: Grose’ [image] 2003, from Old, viewed 26 August 2010,

‘Caxton, William’ [Image] 1816, from Encyclopaedia Britannica online, viewed 28 August 2010,

‘Columbian press’ [image] 1813, from The international printing museum, viewed 19 September 2010,

‘Gutenberg bible, [image] 2010, from, viewed 04 September 2010,

‘Johannes Gutenberg (c.1397- 1468) checking a letterpress proof’ [image] 2010, from designing with, viewed 26 August 2010,

‘Old books and paper scroll’ [image] 2010, from, viewed 28 August 2010,

‘Old paper with feather’ [image] 2010, from, viewed 28 August 2010,

‘Old paper scroll on a white background’ [image] 2010, from, viewed 26 August 2010,

‘Old paper scroll rolled’ [image] 2010, from, viewed 26 August 2010,

‘Platen printing press’ [image] 2010, from preserving my heritage, viewed 04 September 2010,

‘The collection: revolution of printing’ [image] 2010, from ink and, viewed 28 August 2010,

‘Type specimen from Johann Erasmus Luther’s typefoundary’ [image] 1678, from Library of the Gutenberg museum, viewed 04 September 2010,

‘Typesetting’ [image] 2010, from, viewed 26 August 2010,

Articles from Online Encyclopaedias:

‘papermaking’ 2010, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Online, viewed 24 August 2010.

‘printing’ 2010, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Online, viewed 18 August 2010.

‘typography’ 2010, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Online, viewed 04 September 2010.

Video citation:

Winans, D 2009, How did the printing press change the world? [videorecording], History Questions, 22 May, viewed 13 August 2010,

Flickr Image:

‘Stanhope press’ [image] 2008, from, viewed 08 September 2010,