top of page

Part 3: Johannes Gutenberg - Who was He, and Why does He Matter?

Updated: Jul 29

So, who was Johannes Gutenberg? Well, he started out in life as the son of a patrician merchant and a commoner. In the 21st Century, that equates to being born to a Kennedy and a woman Kennedy met at a bar nine months ago. This arrangement made for an interesting childhood. An uprising against the aristocracy in his hometown of Mainz, near Frankfurt, Germany, forced him and his family further South along the Rhine in 1411. Unfortunately, between then, when he formally introduced the printing press in 1439, and when the printing press became widely adapted in 1450, there isn’t much known about Gutenberg’s life apart from those few milestones [1].

The earliest printing press which resembled Gutenberg’s movable type was used in Korea nearly two centuries earlier [2]. It used brass blocks to transfer onto a piece of paper, another revolutionary invention at the time . The process was very manual, and as a result it was highly cumbersome and only allowed for a small number of books to be distributed to the educated and wealthy. Therefore, it wasn't viewed as a significant improvement over the scribe-written books of the Dark Ages.

Gutenberg’s mechanization greatly reduced the amount of labor required to operate a press with the addition of a simple screw and lever system. In non-engineering terms, he added a cylinder with a pole above the movable type – the wood blocks or metal plates containing the letters or images – which sped up the printing process.

The first book printed on his press was, unsurprisingly, a variation of the Bible. It was a remarkable achievement at the time given the Bible’s complexity and length. The Gutenberg Bible, as it became known, was printed in 1455 and was an immediate success. In total, 180 copies were printed: 140 on paper, and 40 on animal skin [3]. Paper was still new to the West at this time, and sometimes alternative mediums needed to be used to make up for its lack of supply.

The success of Gutenberg's Bible also came down to perfect timing, a consistent theme you will find throughout the history of search engines. The Renaissance was humanity’s rebound from the Dark Ages. The popularity of the Church and the reopening of Asian trade routes lead to numerous advancements in art, science, and technology in the pursuit of serving God and the leaders which He bestowed His power unto.

Its most important impact, therefore, was not the invention itself, but it being the catalyst for the spread of these new ideas that defined the Renaissance and, later on, the Reformation. For the first time in history, paradigm shifting ideas related to religion, philosophy, science, and technology could be distributed to the masses. Libraries began to fill with printed copies of significant works. Valuable information was, finally, accessible in a centralized location. Sound familiar…?

It really does make one question what will happen in today’s post-pandemic world. What will be our printing press? Will it be AI? Will it be a new form of search engine? It’s hard to tell at this point, but, if the history of search engines is any indicator, it will take quite some time before another significant invention comes along that did more for a singular cause than the printing press did for search engines. The first computers would be said invention 500 years later. For perspective, if we were to follow the same trajectory, the next technological breakthrough wouldn't be until the year 2523...


[1] Wikipedia Contributors “Johannes Gutenberg.” Wikipedia, July 2023,

[2] Recording the Experience - World Treasures: Beginnings | Exhibitions - Library of Congress.

[3] Wikipedia contributors. “Gutenberg Bible.” Wikipedia, July 2023,

22 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

We have come to the end of a great series, fellow search engine researchers. We have covered a lot – not just regarding search engine technology advancement, but regarding human advancement. Starting

At last, we have made it! Finally, we are at the inception of Google. We will not go into depth about what Google has become, which is Alphabet, but rather how it captured and maintained its dominance

As I alluded to in last week’s post, this week we will be discussing three more early web-based search engines: WebCrawler, Yahoo, and AltaVista. Why these three, you may be asking? Well, it’s because

The Lionstone Agency

bottom of page