Amazing Inventors


Johannes Gutenberg



The man who invented the printing press


I invented a machine to print books - the printing press. After my invention, books were cheaper and easier to make. Books spread ideas around the world. I started the information age. But during my life, no one valued my work.


I went to school in Mainz, Germany. When I was young, there were very few books because it took several weeks to make just one copy. Books were written by hand, usually by priests. They wrote with a quill - a pen made from a bird's feather - and it wasn't always easy to read their handwriting. I asked myself, 'Can I invent a machine to put words on paper?' A machine can make more books in less time.

My training as a goldsmith gave me good ideas for a printing press. I started my experiments in Strasbourg in 1436. I had a girlfriend and we were engaged, but I didn't have very much money. So I couldn't get married and do my experiments as well. I had to choose - should I get married or continue my work on my printing press? It was so hard to decide that I couldn't sleep at night. Finally, after a lot of thinking, I told my girlfriend, 'I'm really sorry, but I can't get married. I need the money for my experiments.'

It was a difficult time. In my town, people had a bad opinion of me. My girlfriend was so angry that she took me to court because I broke my promise. And I was so poor that I had to borrow money to buy materials for my experiments.

In 1440, after four years of hard work, I invented a printing press that worked. It was a wooden press with 'movable type.' To make it work, I made small metal letters and put them in a wooden block. I used the same block to make several copies of the same page. My system was called 'movable type' because you could move the letters from one place in the block to another.

I was very pleased with my invention, but businessmen weren't interested in it. In 1444, I decided to open my own workshop. I printed some poems and in 1448, I printed the calendar for the year. I earned some money, but I couldn't pay off my debts.


In 1450, I met Johann Fust, a rich man who gave me 8,000 guilders. His daughter's husband, Peter Schoffer, started to work with me in my business. Soon my printing press was working again. I did some small jobs - for example, I printed some poems.