Global spread of the printing press  

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The global spread of the printing press with movable type began with the invention of the mechanical printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in Germany (circa 1439), and ended with the adoption of modern printing technology in all major regions of the world by the end of the 19th century.


Spread of the Gutenberg printing press


Gutenberg's first major print work was the 42-line bible in Latin (B42), printed probably between 1452 and 1454 in the German city of Mainz. After Gutenberg lost a lawsuit against his investor Johann Fust, Fust put Gutenberg's employee Peter Schöffer in charge of the print shop. Thereupon Gutenberg established a new one with the financial backing of another money lender. With Gutenberg's monopoly soon shattered, and the secrecy of the new technology compromised, printing spread throughout Germany and beyond, diffused first by emigrating German printers, but soon also by foreign apprentices.


In rapid succession, printing presses were set up in middle and western Europe. Major towns, in particular, functioned as centers of diffusion (Cologne 1466, Rome 1467, Venice 1469, Paris 1470, Cracow 1473, London 1477). In 1481, barely 30 years after the publication of the B42, the small Netherlands already featured printing shops in 21 cities and towns, while Italy and Germany each had shops in about 40 towns at that time. According to one estimate, "by 1500, 220 printing presses were in operation throughout Western Europe and had produced 8 million books." (E. L. Eisenstein: The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge, 1993 pp.13–17, quoted in: Angus Maddison: Growth and Interaction in the World Economy: The Roots of Modernity, Washington 2005, p.17f.) Germany and Italy were considered the two main centres of printing in terms of quantity and quality.

Rest of the world

The near-simultaneous discovery of sea routes to the West (Christopher Columbus, 1492) and East (Vasco da Gama, 1498) and the subsequent establishment of trade links greatly facilitated the global spread of Gutenberg-style printing. Traders, colonists, but, perhaps most, missionaries exported printing presses to the new European oversea domains, setting up new print shops and distributing printing material. In the Americas, the first extra-European print shop was founded in Mexico City in 1544 (1539?), and soon after Jesuits started operating the first printing press in India (Goa, 1556).

For a long time however, printing presses remained mainly the business of Europeans working from within the confines of their colonies. Religious reasons seemed to be among the reasons for the slow adoption of the printing press by indigenous peoples. Thus, printing remained prohibited in the Ottoman empire between 1483 and 1727, initially even on penalty of death. In India, reports are that Jesuits "presented a polyglot Bible to the Emperor Akbar in 1580 but did not succeed in arousing much curiosity." (Angus Maddison: Growth and Interaction in the World Economy: The Roots of Modernity, Washington 2005, p.65) But also practical reasons seem to have played a role. The English East India Company, for example, brought a printer to Surat in 1675, but was not able to cast type in Indian scripts, so the venture failed. A notable exception was the adoption by the Cherokee Indian Elias Boudinot who published the tribe's first newspaper Cherokee Phoenix partly in his native language, using the Cherokee alphabet recently invented by his compatriot Sequoyah.

The earliest printed books in the Middle east were six volumes printed in Hebrew in Safed, by Eliezer ben Isaac Ashkenazi between 1577 and 1587. In 1610, the first printing press in the Levant was produced in the Valley of Deir Mar Antonios Qozhaya in Ehden. The advent of the printing press invigorated the literary and intellectual renaissance in Lebanon. In 1733, printing using Arabic letters was first launched in Deir Mar Youhanna El Sayegh in Khonchara, Mount Lebanon. In 1834, a printing press founded by the American Protestant mission in Beirut became instrumental in disseminating information of this craft, and soon contributed to the launching of family-owned publishing houses. Around the 1970s, several printing presses emerged in Lebanon, such as Joseph D. Raidy Printing Press, today known as Raidy Printing Group s.a.l. In 2008, the first "printing city" in the Middle East is established in Fyadieh, next to Hazmieh.

In the 19th century, the arrival of the Gutenberg-style press to the shores of Tahiti (1818), Hawaii (1821) and other Pacific islands, marked the end of a global diffusion process which had begun almost 400 years earlier. At the same time, the 'old style' press (as the Gutenberg model came to be termed in the 19th century), was already in the process of being displaced by industrial machines like the steam powered press (1812) and the rotary press (1833).

See also

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