Who was he: Commonly referred to as simply Johannes Gutenberg, Johannes Gensfleich zur Laden zum Gutenberg is credited with the invention of the printing press, later improving his invention to the moveable type press during the timeframe of 1440 to 1450 A.D. Eastern Asian documentation suggests that a similar process was invented nearly 400 years earlier in the Eastern world but never impacted Western Civilization.
Gutenberg was the prototypical inventor/artist. Gutenberg's finalized printing press has changed the history of the world arguably like no other invention; the contemporary press still carries the name of the machine as the term for its operation and is specifically mentioned in the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
Background: Johannes Gensfleich zur Laden zum Gutenberg was born circa 1400 A.D. into a patrician family in Mainz, Germany and spent the early part of his life preparing to work in the family industry, which was a combination of the cloth industry and the goldsmith trade. Little is known of his younger life, but Gutenberg was trained as a goldsmith and metal worker from an early age, involved largely with the striking of coins and medallions, along with building hand mirrors. His family was a member of the aristocracy of the area and his father's business produced authorized legal tender for the ruling elite.
Prior to 1434, Gutenberg moved to Strasburg, Germany, probably for political reasons, and began work on what would be his world-changing invention. Stationery type had already been invented but was made mostly of wood. Gutenberg was a specialist in metalworking and so advanced the press in the direction of this technology, eventually developing moveable type. However, the Mainz area was known to be a center for mining activity and thus offered Gutenberg access to abundant working materials and he eventually returned to Mainz to complete his work.
Gutenberg was not much different from most inventors – he borrowed money to continue improvising his invention toward mass production capability. Though he was a highly skilled goldsmith, his printing press consumed his time. Financial and legal documents validate that Gutenberg had moved back to Mainz to continue development, but was sued because of inability to repay a debt to his business and financial partner, Johannes Fust, who claimed a portion of Gutenberg's equipment by court order and then partnered with Gutenberg's assistant.
The funds loaned to Gutenberg were also probably used in the development of the Gutenberg Bible, which is a 42-line Bible of dual-column pages. There are fewer than 200 of these books currently in existence. Published in 1455, the Gutenberg Bible was not the first book ever pressed, as is often advanced. It was, however, Gutenberg's first mass-produced publication. His problem with building cash flow was the price, which was generally considered to be equal to three times a common clerk's annual salary.
Later in life, Gutenberg was eventually issued a pension by the Archbishop of Mainz. He remained in Mainz until his death in 1468, largely in obscurity. The full impact of his invention was not felt early on but did pave the direction for the ability to communicate individually and in mass by information distribution and publication. The church and graveyard of his burial have since been destroyed and the only imprint left of Gutenberg in the contemporary world is his printing press invention, which is rated as the greatest invention in history in the Top 100 listing.