Meet Johannes Gutenberg

Reformation Role

In 1439, Johannes Gutenberg invented the movable-type printing press, the most important invention of the second millennium.

What does this mean?

Gutenberg was born 85 years before Martin Luther, but his invention set the stage for the Reformation, allowing Luther’s writings to quickly spread throughout Europe, to Rome and beyond.

Fun Facts about Johannes Gutenberg

  • Gutenberg’s first career was as a goldsmith. His knowledge of metals served him well because he forged the movable type for his printing press from a mixture of lead, tin, and antimony.
  • Early printing presses could make up to 240 impressions per hour.
  • In 1455 Gutenberg published the Bible. Since each page had 42 lines, it became known as the 42-line Bible. It sold for the equivalent of 3 years’ wages of an average clerk. This was much more affordable than hand-copied Bibles which took scribes over a year to produce.
  • After inventing the printing press, Gutenberg had financial troubles and eventually lost ownership of his Bible printing workshop.  It is thought he started a smaller printing shop. He may have printed another Bible there.
  • Gutenberg died on February 3, 1468 at approximately 70 years of age.
  • Books printed prior to 1501 are called incunables, a reference to the infancy of printing.