There was never a machine so integral to the development of Western civilization and its ideas – reason, logic, thought, education, and democracy – than the printing press. Whether it was the first official newspaper in Strasbourg or the first single volume of all of William Shakespeare’s works, the printing press helped us get to where we are today.
The printing press evolved into many different branches of industrial printing that revolutionized society. But what else do we know about this device? Here are 10 fun historical printing press facts:
1. Who Invented the Printing Press?
At this point, nobody really knows who invented the printing press. Moreover, it is still unclear where it originates from. The general consensus for now is that it was made in China during the first millennium as a book, titled “The Diamond Sutra,” was discovered during the Tang Dynasty around 868 A.D. This is the accepted conventional wisdom, but it could change in the coming years.
2. A Scientific Revolution
For many decades, the only printed books were those of a religious nature. That changed when the printing press became more ubiquitous throughout Europe. In fact, scientists agreed that the printing press was instrumental during the scientific revolution and the Renaissance. There is a contention that without this machine, then there may not have been either significant historical events.
3. World’s Smallest Printed Book
According to the Guinness World Book of Records, the smallest printed book in history is a 22-page Japanese picture book that consists of mostly flowers. How small is it? 0.0291×0.0295. It is so minuscule that it requires a magnifying glass just to see the images.
4. World’s Largest Catalog
It took many centuries to print the world’s largest catalog. In January 2005, Aviall Services published a 2.5” thick “Product and Catalog Book” that had more than 2,600 pages and weighed 7.5 lbs. That’s more than that five-pound dumbbell sitting in your closet that you never use!
5. Oldest Surviving Printed Book
This goes back to the original point: the oldest surviving printed book is the “Diamond Sutra.”
What is it all about? From Britannica:
“The Diamond Sutra expresses the Prajnaparamita emphasis upon the illusory nature of phenomena in these words: ‘Just as, in the vast ethereal sphere, stars and darkness, light and mirage, dew, foam, lightning, and clouds emerge, become visible, and vanish again, like the features of a dream—so everything endowed with an individual shape is to be regarded.’ As with most of the shorter (and later) Prajnaparamita texts, the ideas are not argued or explained but boldly stated, often in striking paradoxes, including frequent identification of things with their opposites. Thus, the form of presentation underlines the text’s thesis that spiritual realization depends upon transcending rational categories. Partly for this reason the Diamond Sutra is considered the Sanskrit work closest in spirit to the philosophy of Chan (Zen) Buddhism.”
6. Political Propaganda
For a long time, politicians and governments depended upon word-of-mouth for their propaganda. When the printing press was prevalent, public officials disseminated their propaganda with the printing press, sharing ideas and policies through this medium.
7. Mexico vs. United States
Yes, the United States is home to ingenuity and innovation and wealth. So, you would think that the U.S. would adopt the printing press before others (after Europe, of course). But that’s not the case. It has been discovered that Mexico had a 100-year head start on the U.S. Mexico launched printing operations in 1534, but the first printing press wasn’t operating until 1639, thanks to the Glover family in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
8. Two Years to Print Shakespeare’s Works
Just how long would it take to print all of William Shakespeare’s plays into one book? A week? A month? A year? Well, if it were today, then it would a few days. Back in the day, however, printers spent two years – two years! – put together the playwright’s works all into one volume.
9. European Output Over the Centuries
In the 15th century, European output of printed books barely climbed above a couple of million copies. By the 18th century, this figure surged to as high as one billion copies. The people wanted to read, they wanted to fill their minds, and they wanted to learn as much as they could.
10. Relation – The First Printed Newspaper
Who knew that it would take 500 years for the print newspaper to die? Let’s be honest: print newspapers will go extinct in the next few decades. In 1605, newspapers were just beginning.
Relation was the first official newspaper in the world, distributed in Strasbourg. With the success of this newspaper, they started to pop up all over Europe, which many assert contributed to the growth of literacy, educated the public, and helped democracy flourish.
Who knew how instrumental Relation would become to the advancement of Western civilization?
Unfortunately, the printing press will soon be a relic of our past. With everything going digital – books, newspapers, magazines, and even pornography – the need for a printing press has greatly diminished. But, like so many other inventions of the last few hundred years, the printing press will go down as one of the most important – if not, the most important – development in human history.