The Gutenberg printing press – invented in the 1440s by Johannes Gutenberg, a goldsmith from Mainz in Germany – is widely considered to be one of humanity’s defining inventions.
Gutenberg figured out how to make large quantities of durable metal type and how to fix that type firmly enough to print hundreds of copies of a page, yet flexibly enough that the type could be reused to print an entirely different page.
His famous bibles were objects beautiful enough to rival the calligraphy of the monks. The crisp black Latin script is perfectly composed into two dense blocks of text, occasionally highlighted with a flourish of red ink.
It is also not true that Gutenberg single-handedly created mass literacy. It was common 600 or 700 years earlier in the Abbasid Caliphate, spanning the Middle East and North Africa.
Still, the Gutenberg press did change the world. It led to Europe’s reformation, science, the newspaper, the novel, the school textbook, and much else.
But it could not have done so without another invention, just as essential but much more often overlooked: paper.