If you are reading this right now, you are taking part in the wonder of literacy. Because of printed words, people can relay information across both time and space. Ideas are encoded in writing and transmitted to readers across thousands of miles and years. Because of this development, the words of people distant to us can influence events, impart knowledge, and change the world. Much of the credit for the development of this phenomenon can be attributed to one man.
Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg, better known as Johannes Gutenberg, was born in the German city of Mainz. Though most of Gutenberg’s early life is a mystery, historians believe that he studied at the University of Erfurt in 1418 and spent much of his young adult life practicing the profession of his father: goldsmithing. Having a penchant for fortune and success, Gutenberg borrowed money from investors in 1439 and found himself in financial trouble.
In the year 1439 the city in which Gutenberg lived was planning to exhibit its large collection of relics from Emperor Charlemagne (a famous ruler who had united much of Western Europe around 800 AD). The exhibit was expected to bring many visitors to the town, so Gutenberg took investments and created many polished metal mirrors which were to be sold to the visitors (it was a common belief at that time that mirrors were able to capture holy light from religious relics). The mirrors which Gutenberg produced probably would have sold well, but due to severe flooding the event was delayed by one year. The impatient investors demanded that Gutenberg return their investments, but he had already spent the money on producing the unsaleable mirrors. He was trapped in a difficult situation. In order to satisfy the investors, Gutenberg decided to share his greatest secret with them.
This secret would forever change the world, all of history, and even the process of keeping history. It’s been argued that Gutenberg’s idea was one of the greatest of all mankind. This one idea would lead to the spread of countless others. It would play a key role in the development of the Renaissance, Reformation, the Age of Enlightenment, and the Scientific Revolution. This idea would bring learning to the masses and form the backbone of the modern knowledge-based economy. Gutenberg had created the mechanical printing press with movable type.
Gutenberg’s brilliant idea would soon change the world, but in the short term he bungled what proved to be a large and risky investment. He found himself in financial trouble once again and was sued by one of his investors, who accused Gutenberg of mismanaging money meant for the production of books. The courts ruled against Gutenberg and Gutenberg lost control of the shop that he had created. He was effectively bankrupt.
Before the spread of Gutenberg’s idea, literature was primarily handwritten. That means that each copy of the Catholic bible and all of its 73 books were tediously and painstakingly hand scribed, and this was done before the invention of the ballpoint pen. Given the amount of detail that went into scribing each text, creating a single copy of a bible could take years. Because of the effort that went into producing them, books were extremely rare and valuable. Because of the value and scarcity of books, there was little reason for common people to learn to read or write since it was unlikely that they would ever handle a book in their lifetimes. Gutenberg’s invention would change all of that. His printing press allowed literature to be produced on a mass scale. His movable metal type could be arranged once to form a page, and his press could print the page again and again.
The first major text that Gutenberg produced was a 42 line copy of the bible. Written in Latin and containing 1272 pages, the Gutenberg Bible has had an immeasurable effect on the history of the printed word. Scholars estimate that Gutenberg produced between 165 and 185 of these bibles, which sold out almost immediately. Most copies went to monasteries and universities, though one bible was sold to a wealthy private individual. Copies are known to have sold for 30 florins (about three years of wages for a clerk at the time), which may seem expensive but was nonetheless much cheaper than a hand produced copy. Purchasing a Gutenberg Bible in the 1450s would have been a good investment if you and your descendants were able to maintain it. Only twenty-one complete Gutenberg Bibles exist today and the last one traded hands in 1987 for 4.9 million dollars, the highest price ever paid for a book at the time.
Though he had failed as a businessman, the technologies that he had created spread across Europe rapidly. As these printing technologies and techniques spread, news and books began to travel across Europe much faster than previously possible. The world has not been the same since. Though Gutenberg was financially unsuccessful in his own lifetime, he made the world a much richer place.
Directions: Read each question carefully and choose the best answer.Refer to the text if necessary.Write your answer on the provided space.
1. Which best describes the structure of the text in paragraph 2?
a) Compare and contrast
b) Problem and solution
c) Chronological order
d) Spatial order
2. Which of the following expresses the correct order of events?