Explore the History of Printing

January 6, 2020

Jeannette Tuionetoa

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I am not quite sure who knows this or who doesn’t. Contrary to popular belief, Johannes Gutenberg did NOT invent the printing press. Gutenberg did, however, invent several tools surrounding the printing press. I guess most homeschool families found this out only when studying the history of printing.

History of Printing

Many of us believe Gutenberg invented the printing press and we can agree that it is interesting that, in fact, the Chinese birthed the idea. What is even more interesting is to think about what would life be without the invention of the printing press? “Thank you” to China, by the way. Although the Gutenberg Bible was definitely the first mass-produced printed work, it wasn’t the first printed book or the first made using movable type.

It is hard to believe that before the printing press, people had to write out everything by hand. Consequently, entire manuscripts were written by hand. 

In the fast-paced age of instant information with the touch of a button, we find it difficult to fathom the patience and skill needed to do such a thing. The printing press truly changed the way of the world in its time, and we are grateful for it even to this day.

Think about how things would be different without the printing press.

No newspapers.

People once had to travel on horseback to deliver messages. The ability to mass-produce information for people to be aware of events around them is massive. Some say ignorance is bliss. However, knowledge is also said to be power and I agree.

The price of knowledge.

The cost of manuscripts would be astronomical if people still had to write them by hand. The printing press made information accessible to people from all walks of life. The common folks could easily purchase a book when previously it wasn’t feasible. The mass production of information enabled reading and information sharing to become affordable for all.

No printing press —> no typewriters —> no computers.

This was the evolution of how we came to have computers of today. Knowledge builds upon knowledge. Would we have computers today if there was no printing press?

The Spread of God’s Word.

The most significant impact the printing press has made is the ability to mass-produce the scriptures. It took three years to print 200 copies of the Bible. This was an amazing achievement then. In the early 16th century, printing made it possible for the Reformation in that people were able to read God’s Word for themselves.

Based on the number of books printed and sold over the last 50 years, the Bible remains at the highest number of books ever read in the entire world. There have been over 3,900 MILLION copies of the Bible sold within the past 50 years alone.

Check out below a list of resources to help your history of printing lessons at home:

The Age of Printing Download| School History

7 Ways, the Printing Press, Changed the World | History.com

Wood Block printing 200

Wooden matrices/woodcuts were engraved, inked, and pressed onto a sheet of paper by Ancient China. This was known as woodblock printing. One of the first books ever to be printed (868 AD) is called the Diamond Sutra and is a six-sheet scroll that is over five meters long.

Here are some fresh ways for your kids to understand what woodblock painting is:

Block Printing for Kids using Styrofoam | DoodleCraft

FREE Download Basic Block Printing | Kristen Necessary

How You Can Keep the Long Tradition of Block Printing Alive Today | My Modern Met

Moveable type printing 1040

This is known to be the most important stage of printing history – moveable type printing. This also came from China when a printer, Bi Sheng, invented a moveable clay type.

Chinese Invention: World’s First Known Movable Type Printing | Ancient Pages

The Printing Press 1440

Johannes Gutenberg was an innovator that brought the moveable print to Europe. Metal letters were arranged in trays to make up words, lined up, and inked onto the press.

Learn a bit more about Gutenberg with the resources below:

Facts & Worksheets Johannes Gutenberg | KidsKonnect

Johannes Gutenberg Biography Notebook Page | Learning Treasures

Gutenberg Printing Press FREE Worksheet | Education.com

How to Make a DIY Printing Press from a Panini Press | Lil Blue Boo

Johannes Gutenberg – Webquest with Key (Google Doc Included) | History Matters

Etching 1515

Etching was perfected in Germany. On a metal plate with an acid-resisting ground, etching was used to decorate armor and weapons mostly. Rembrandt himself gave up engraving to concentrate on etching and provided over 300 etchings in his lifetime.

Check out how etching printing presses look here.

History of etching and printing | etchingprintingpress.wordpress.com

Xerography 1938

This type of printing and photocopying is a technique that works with electrostatic charges and is the primary method of reproducing images and printing data from computers. Xerography is used in photocopiers, laser printers, and fax machines.

The company that negotiated commercial rights to xerography became one of the biggest companies in the world today. Can you guess what company it was? The company is now infamously known as Xerox.

Inkjet printing 1951

Inkjet printing recreates a digital image by shooting droplets of ink onto paper and plastic substrates. It is the most used type of printer today.

Laser Printing 1969

Gary Starkweather made the first designs for laser automation; and in 1971, Xerox developed laser technology. The technology behind laser printing is slightly complicated to me, but this is how I understand it. Laser printing produces text and graphics by repeatedly passing a laser beam back and forth over a drum.

3D printing 1984

3D printing is also called additive manufacturing. In this type of printing, an additive makes three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. That is so mind boggling to me. I have a friend who’s husband, then fiancé proposed to her with a 3D print of the engagement ring. (He is an engineer.)

Digital Press 1993

Can you believe the first digital printing presses came out only in the 1990s? Indigo was the first digital color printing press. With this, we can personalize prints straight from our desktop computers.

This very brief history of the printing press is not even close to complete. There are so many other parts to the puzzle in the history of printing (i.e. lithography, screen printing, phototypesetting, and more.)

Check out these other resources to add to your studies on the history of printing:

This is a fun add-on. Check out the evolution of pens with this freebie from Clipartino.

October 25, 1400, Geoffrey Chaucer Copywork Timeline Worksheet| Write Bonnie Rose

May 2, 1611, King James Bible Published Timeline Worksheet| Write Bonnie Rose

 January 4, 1809, Louis Braille Timeline Worksheet| Write Bonnie Rose

 June 23, 1868, Typewriter Decoding  Timeline Worksheet| Write Bonnie Rose

Pellegrino Turri Facts & Worksheets FREE Download | KidsKonnect

Timeline Worksheet: July 30, 1935, Paperback Book Revolution | Write Bonnie Rose

History of Newspapers | Time Toast

Read about how to print fabric as an art activity with your history of printing unit: Fabric Printing with Crayons and Sandpaper

Many say the printing press is the most significant invention of our time. The lack of a printing press would drastically change how we live.

The history of printing through the ages has allowed us to circulate our ideas freely and with people all over the world. Printing has been the rock of all mass communication and education for centuries.

Information is now free and truly can help us take control of how we live and make decisions – and it all started with the idea of a printing press.

History of Printing.

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