A printing press is a device that created printed media, like newspapers, by pressing an inked surface onto a surface like paper or cloth. Before the invention of the printing press, people had to manually brush or rub ink onto the surface in order to print text. This was a time consuming and difficult process. The invention of the printing press transformed the way ink was transferred to a surface, and it dramatically increased the speed of producing and printing.
The printing press was first invented around 1439 by a goldsmith names Johannes Gutenberg. This first version required that the creation of a moveable metal mold that could produce text onto surfaces through the pressing of ink into those surfaces. This metal could move, allowing for a flexibility in the text produced. This dramatically reduced the cost of printed books, papers, and other important documents.
By the 1500s, the use of the printing press was common across Western Europe and had produced over 20 million texts. By the end of the 1500s, the printing press was responsible for printing nearly 200 million texts.
The larger number of available texts dramatically reduced the cost, and it allowed more people access to reading materials. This increased literacy rates among everyone, and more than just the elite class could have access to books and education. This education of the masses transformed Europe. Thus, the invention of the printing press was crucial to opening up knowledge to everyone, and not just the rich.
Since, the economic and educational benefits of the printing press were so great, European society really pushed to improve the technology. Several improved versions of the printing press were developed, increasing the speed and cost efficiency of each new model.
It was only during the industrial revolution, however, that the printing press really received an upgrade. By the 1800s, Lord Stanhope had invented a new press that used different metals and materials that allowed the press to print up to 480 pages per hour, nearly doubling the speed of the old printing press. This further decreased the time, effort, and cost of printed text, which had just as a dramatic effect on Europe as the original printing press.
From these early inventions, printers developed. And although the printing press is no longer used today, its impact on society remains as one of the first and greatest inventions to spread knowledge to everyone.