It is common knowledge that the printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the 1400’s. But what many people don’t know is how the printing press has evolved since then.
The printing press is very different in many ways than when it was first invented in 1440. Just the speed itself makes the modern-day printing press very, very different than its ancestors of over 500 years ago. For instance, someone operating a printing press in the 1400’s could assemble 2,000 characters per hour. Today, a computer (which could be considered the modern-day printing press) can do that same thing in a matter of seconds.
So, to learn more about this great invention, let’s take a minute and look at how it has evolved over the years:
Done by Hand
Again, the printing press has evolved a lot since it was first invented. But many of those evolutions have taken place within the last century. For example, for the first few hundred years of its use, all printing steps were done by hand. It wasn’t until the 19th century that this changed. With the invention of steam engines, and then electricity, these things brought on many changes with the printing press, including more automated functions.
Early printing presses were made out of wood. Starting at the end of the 18th century was when pieces of the printing press started being made out of metal instead. In 1800, the first cast iron printing press was created by Earl Stanhope, a British scientist. This new cast iron press had more power, and cleaner impressions, than the printing presses that came before it.
The next innovations with the printing press came in the form of power:
The first attempt to change printing presses into using mechanized processes came in 1824. This is when Daniel Treadwell, an American inventor, successfully created a press using both gears and power. This new mechanized printing press could produce prints four times faster than its predecessors.
Next came the steam-powered printing press, invented by Friedrich Koenig, a German printer, in 1812. This also helped the printing press to create its prints much faster than ever before.
Type of Paper
Next up were innovations in the type of paper used with printing presses. All early versions of the printing press used single sheets of paper. This made the printing process very slow and tedious. That was until 1865, when William Bullock, an American inventor, invented his Bullock Press. The notable thing about his new printing press was that it used paper that was on a roll. This meant that printers didn’t need to feed each new piece of paper in. With his new printing press, the presses were now “self-feeding.” This saved a lot of time and effort.
One of the last noteworthy evolutions with the printing press came in the form of how type was set and composed. All early printing presses used type plates that were set and composed by hand. But in the 1800’s, the Linotype and Monotype printing presses were invented. These printing presses used a type of keyboard to compose and set their type, which again saved hours of time.