How The Printing Press Was First Invented

In most history classes, when they teach about the invention of the printing press it usually involves German inventor Johannes Gutenberg, the year 1450, and some mention of the Gutenberg printing press. He is often given all the credit when it comes to revolutionizing the written word in Europe, putting an end to the dark times of the Middle Ages, and bringing humanity into the Renaissance. While there are aspects of this narrative that are true, it doesn't give us a complete picture of the invention of the printing press.

If Gutenberg didn't invent the printing press, then who did? According to History, the answer to that is actually unknown. No one knows specifically who invented the world's first printing press and they don't know when. What they do know is that the world's oldest printed text dates back to the first millennium, and was produced in China. Outside of that, the true inventor's identity remains a mystery.

Where moveable metal type originated

Though we don't know who created the first printing press or when — we do know that the Chinese produced some of the world's first printed documents and books. They used a process known as block printing, which involves using hand-carved wooden blocks and ink to transfer an image to paper, fabric, etc. This process also encouraged the transfer of writing from scrolls to the printed book format, according to History. Block printing was also used in Japan and Korea before the development of movable type.

While Gutenberg is often credited with the invention of the moveable metal type, he was actually a little late to the party, by about 150 years. According to Lit Hub, a civil minister named Choe Yun-ui was tasked with printing a large Buddhist text that would have required an exorbitant amount of woodblocks to produce. Instead of doing that, he began casting the images he wanted in metal, then placed them in a frame and covered them with ink before pressing them to paper.

If this process sounds familiar it is because it is eerily similar to the printing press that Gutenberg became famous for. However, Choe Yun-ui created his style of printing in 1234, a century and a half before Gutenberg. So while the European version of the printing press did help bring education to the western world, this technique originated in the East.