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Old December 14th, 2012, 09:21 AM   #1
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The Printing Press, why so late?


So Gutenburg is credited with the invention of the printing press and movable type in the 15th Cnetury AD.

But what I do not get is, what exactly was the technology that was so hard to develop? Was it simply coming up with the concept of movable type? Or was there something else that I am missing?

Since very ancient times, civilizations have been minting identical coins using a "mint" right? And that is with metal, surely it would be even easier to automate pressing of paper than of metal??

So was it simply the concept of having movable letters? I find it hard to understand why noone had come up with that idea before, it is pretty simple really.

Maybe it was more to do with a demand issue? Perhaps it was really rising literacy rates and personal income that created a market for lots of books and that is what really drove the invetion of the printing press.

Or is there something to do with the technology that I am missing?
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Old December 14th, 2012, 09:43 AM   #2

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To some extent it was supply and demand. The vast majority of people could not read or write, and that includes the nobility. By the late 15th century literacy was on the increase, new ideas were spreading westwards with the fall of Byzantyum. The time was right.
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Old December 14th, 2012, 03:11 PM   #3

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gmann101 View Post
So Gutenburg is credited with the invention of the printing press and movable type in the 15th Cnetury AD.

But what I do not get is, what exactly was the technology that was so hard to develop? Was it simply coming up with the concept of movable type? Or was there something else that I am missing?

Since very ancient times, civilizations have been minting identical coins using a "mint" right? And that is with metal, surely it would be even easier to automate pressing of paper than of metal??

So was it simply the concept of having movable letters? I find it hard to understand why noone had come up with that idea before, it is pretty simple really.

Maybe it was more to do with a demand issue? Perhaps it was really rising literacy rates and personal income that created a market for lots of books and that is what really drove the invetion of the printing press.

Or is there something to do with the technology that I am missing?
Its very easy to see the jumps and advances in hindsight, it seems 'obvious' to move on to the next advancement, that it cant have been that much of a jump to get to the next stage. This is quite different to the spark required to actually create something new and make that next advancement and being able to conceive it and then create it. Its not as easy as one might think. Especially so in our modern age when we have advanced relatively rapidly. We had wheels and wagons for thousands of years, then we got steam engines, why so long for the car etc? Will people hundreds of years from now wonder why we were using petrol powered vehicles rather than using.......whatever comes next?
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Old December 14th, 2012, 03:47 PM   #4

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The Printing Press, why so late?
Because Germans hadn't been invented yet.
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Old December 14th, 2012, 03:56 PM   #5

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As is probably known the printing press had been invented in China as well as most likely in Europe many centuries earlier. But it was the invention of the movable type that was crucial, especially the casting of said type, for its spread in Europe. I would welcome a guess regarding why it appeared at the time it did. Some has suggested it was in connection with the reformation, the need for popular written works was immediate, that is the market was there, and Gutenberg realised it. However that is somewat doubful, not least because we are not actually sure Gutenberg was the first European to apply the movable type and print.

Makes a nice explanation until someone comes up with a plausible alternative though.
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Old December 14th, 2012, 04:36 PM   #6
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It's worth keeping in mind that movable type is an expensive process. Not only demand for the output, but the supply of the inputs is important to seeing when a particular invention becomes viable.
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Old December 14th, 2012, 04:50 PM   #7

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It's worth keeping in mind that movable type is an expensive process. Not only demand for the output, but the supply of the inputs is important to seeing when a particular invention becomes viable.
Indeed, but the 15th century was not exactly the first time rich persons wanting to appeal to the masses appeared. Such trends can be traced all the way back to Roman times.
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Old December 14th, 2012, 05:00 PM   #8
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Indeed, but the 15th century was not exactly the first time rich persons wanting to appeal to the masses appeared. Such trends can be traced all the way back to Roman times.
What I'm saying is that you need things like the wood/metal blocks that are the 'press' portion of the printing press to become cheap enough as well as for the growth in demand for printed material. Carving out and maintaining lettering on even a wooden press-block was a time-intensive, expert process that couldn't be had cheaply. Only as the tools and expertise became more widely available would something like a printing press be able to take off.
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Old December 14th, 2012, 06:09 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gmann101 View Post
So Gutenburg is credited with the invention of the printing press and movable type in the 15th Cnetury AD.

But what I do not get is, what exactly was the technology that was so hard to develop? Was it simply coming up with the concept of movable type? Or was there something else that I am missing?

Since very ancient times, civilizations have been minting identical coins using a "mint" right? And that is with metal, surely it would be even easier to automate pressing of paper than of metal??

So was it simply the concept of having movable letters? I find it hard to understand why noone had come up with that idea before, it is pretty simple really.

Maybe it was more to do with a demand issue? Perhaps it was really rising literacy rates and personal income that created a market for lots of books and that is what really drove the invetion of the printing press.

Or is there something to do with the technology that I am missing?
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Old December 14th, 2012, 06:48 PM   #10
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You also need the buying power to be present in the general population. Printing press is making many copies of a text, it's not going to be adopted if the number of people purchasing books is few. You need widespread Literacy, and some widespread wealth to the many.
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