Contemporary Publishing

History Of Books

Early Forms of Books

Transition to Paper

Printing Press Effects


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Early Presses

The world's first movable type printing technology was invented and developed in China between the years 1041 and 1048. In the West, the invention of an improved movable type mechanical printing technology in Europe is credited to the German printer Johannes Gutenberg in 1450. Gutenberg, a goldsmith by profession, developed a printing system by both adapting existing technologies and making inventions of his own.

The first documented movable-type printing developed in China between 1041 and 1048AD. In the west, the technology is credited to German printer Johannes Gutenberg, in 1450. Gutenberg developed a printing system based on exsiting technologies of the screw press.

1702 Screw Press
1702 Screw Press

The screw press had been used for a variety of purposes through the previous centuries--grapes, olives, cloth for printed patterns, Gutenberg adapted this techology so the physical construction could withstand the pressing power exerted by the pates against the paper. Pressure would be applied evenly and with sudden elasticity. To improve speed, he introduced a moveable undertable on which the sheets could be swiftly changed.

Concurrent to Gutenberg's work was the introduction of water-powered paper mills, which allowed for mass production. Papermaking centers began to multiply, reducing the price of paper to 1/6 of parchment and then even less. The result of these two advances changed printing throughout the world and eventually led to assembly line mass production of books.

By 1500, Western European presses produved more than twenty million volumes. As presses spread across the lands, output rose tenfold, to an estimate 150-200 million copies. A single Renaissance press could produce 3,600 pages per workday, and this enabled books to be sold by the hundreds of thousands. Authors now became bestsellers and achieved fame.

1811 Printing press
1811 Printing Press


Impact of the Press

The printing pass made a phenomenal impact on things outside the world of books. In fact, Sir Francis Bacon claimed these inventions "changed the whole face and state of the world".

Newspapers -- the rapidity of typographical text production, as well as the drastic drop in unit costs, influenced the passing of up-to-date information to the public, thus the first newspaper was born. In conjunction with this, a new branch of media developed--the press.

Reading -- Because presses guaranteed the same information fell on the same pages, and made books consistant, indexes became common. The process of reading also transformed from oral readings to silent, private reading. Widely available printed materials also influenced a drastic rise in adult literacy ratings throughout Europe.

Education -- The more people with access to knowledge, the more discussions could occur. In addition, the printed book was more commercialized. Information was rapidly dessiminated, educating those who might not otherwise have opportunity.

Societal Structure -- The press introduced the era of mass communication, which permanently altered societal structure. Unrestricted circulation of information (and sometimes revolutionary ideas) transcended borders. Authoritarian power was threatened. The monopoly held by the literate elite on education and learning cracked. The middle class gained knowledge, and with it power.


Steam-powered rotary presses replaced hand-operated Gutenberg-style presses in the 19th century. By replacing the flatbed with the rotary motion of cylinders, Friedrich Koenig made an alteration that would radically influence publishing and books.

Koenig's resulting machine was capable of producing 1100 impressions per hour. Later improvements allowed for double-sided printing, which led to the advent of newspapers and distribution to mass audiences. Book production also saw an impact as titles and other metadata became standardized.

In the United States, Richard M. Hoe invented the steam-powered rotary press in 1843. His machine allowed for millions of copies of a page in a single day. Paper transitioned to rolled reams, and continuous feed allowed presses to run at a much faster pace. By the late 1930s and early '40s, presses had substantially improved efficiency with some models capable of performing 2,500 to 3,000 impressions per hour.

Hoe Press

Hoe Printing Press
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