By Jost Amman – Wikimedia

Top 10 Facts about Gutenberg


Johannes Gutenberg, also famously known for the Gutenberg press, was a German inventor. He invented the first-ever movable printer.

This invention made books and other printable more available and affordable. It was considered to be the most important invention of the millennium.

What is surprising is that Gutenberg did not live to see his invention become a global success. His invention became popular centuries after his death.

Very little is known about Gutenberg’s family. He was the youngest son to Friele Gensfleisch Zur Laden and Else Wyrich. His father was a patrician merchant who was a goldsmith as well as traded clothes.

Here are the top 10 facts about Johannes Gutenberg.  

1. His Father worked at the Mainz Mint

Photo sourced from Wikimedia

Little is known about the early life of Gutenberg as well as that of his family. His father worked with the ecclesiastic mint.

Growing up, Johannes was familiar with goldsmith work since that was his father’s trade skill. This skill was usually passed down in the family.

Therefore, the Gutenberg’s were incredible goldsmiths. They had acquired considerable knowledge as well as technical skills on metal works.

Together with his father, they sold metal to the mint. The metal would be converted into special coins among other things. 

Gutenberg had three older siblings; Friele, Patze and Else. 

2. His surname was given from the house inhabited by his ancestors

They lived in a house that belonged to the patrician families dating back to the 13th century. The patricians were wealthy, influential and among the political elite in Mainz.

Their houses were named after the owners, hence the Gutenberg home. The name Zu Gutenberg was first used in 1427 for the first time.

It was custom to take the name of the house as one’s surname. Since Gutenberg and his family lived in their paternal home, they took their ancestor’s surname Gensfleisch zur Laden.

Official records indicate Gutenberg’s official year of birth to be 1400. However, historians indicate his date of birth to be between 1394 and 1404.

3. He invented the Gutenberg Printing Press

By Jost Amman – Wikimedia

Having grown up with a dad who was a goldsmith, Gutenberg knew his way through metalwork. He invented the first-ever movable print that was used for mass production.

This printing press used oil-based ink on wooden printing presses. It was a unique printing system that simplified the printing process.

Although it simplified the process through mass production, it was still complicated to use. This printing press worked by first hammering a hard metal punch with the letter carved back to front into soft metal copper.

Before this invention, they would copy manuscripts by hand which was slow and tedious.

The printing press changed the bookmaking process and the innovation was quickly adopted in Europe.

4. Gutenberg’s family moved to Strassburg

The patricians were not accustomed to paying taxes but would receive payment from other taxpayers who were not patricians.

Their city was hit by the devastating bubonic plague. This led to an uprising against the patricians.

There was a scuffle between the patricians and the city officials, this resulted in them being evicted. Gutenberg’s father moved his family to Strassburg. This happened between 1428 and 1430.

Gutenberg lived in Strassburg between 1430 to 1444. While there, he worked on handcrafts such as gem cutting and teaching pupils.  

Gutenberg is believed to have studied at the University of Erfurt. There is a record at the university of a student named Johannes de Altavilla.

5. There is no proof that Gutenberg was married

Photo sourced from Wikimedia

Information on Gutenberg married life or children is unknown. Records indicate that his father died in 1419. They returned to Mainz with their mother.

Gutenberg stayed in Mainz for a period of time, during which, little is known about his activities there. A few years later, Gutenberg was traced in Strasbourg.

Having had learnt how to work on metal, a skill passed down by his father. Gutenberg found work in the new city that was well known for metal crafts.

A case was filed against Gutenberg for breaking his promise to marry. Little is known of the outcome of that case.   

6. Most of his life is a mystery

After the passing away of his father, Gutenberg went off the radar for 15 years. He resurfaced in 1434 after official records indicated his new address to be in Strasbourg.

Gutenberg was living with relatives from his mother’s side of the family. Records further indicate that he was a registered goldsmith member of Strasbourg militia.

He also worked with a wealthy trader whom he taught how to polish gems.   

7. Gutenberg got in trouble several times

By de Larmessin – Wikimedia

Gutenberg was not well-off nor did he have a steady source of income. He, therefore, borrowed money for his press and Bible project.

Unable to pay his debt, Gutenberg was sued and he became bankrupt. His lender was also the first to print their name on books using the printing press invented by Gutenberg.

In another instance, Gutenberg got into a heated argument with two archbishops. This led to him being sent to exile.

While in exile, he helped the Bechtermünze brothers build a new printing press. He also printed several books but never included his name on them.

8. He was secretive about his projects

Gutenberg lived a secretive life from keeping his love life secret to not printing his name on books.

Information about him that’s public tells of his gem cutting, teaching and training a wealthy trader how to polish gems.

He was so secretive about his projects that some of his partners were unaware of work. The partners would insist on inclusion in the projects since they invested in them.

They signed a 5-year contract in 1438. The contract was between Hans Riffe, Andreas Dritzehn and Andreas Heilmann. The contract stated that upon the death of one member, his family would be financially compensated.

9. Gutenberg’s business venture failed

In 1439, there was a religious event planned to take place in Aachen Germany. This was a famous shrine in the country.

Thousands of pilgrims were expected to attend the event. Gutenberg saw this as an opportunity to make money.

The pilgrims believed that if they caught a reflection of the holy relics in a mirror, they would get healing powers too.

So, Gutenberg made thousands of convex mirrors to sell to the pilgrims. Unfortunately, there was flooding as well as disease that caused the postponement of the religious event.  

10. He was sued for misusing funds

By Berlin-George – Wikimedia

Gutenberg was not wealthy and one of his business ventures failed to leave him broke. He, therefore, borrowed funds for his projects.

In 1456, one of his lenders, Fust, quarrelled with Gutenberg for failing to refund his money. He was also accused of misusing the funds. 

Gutenberg was sued and the court ruled in favour of Fust. Fust was given control of Gutenberg’s Bible printing workshop. He also printed his name on the books.   

This new arrangement left Gutenberg bankrupt.

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