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Famous Men of the Middle Ages
J. H. Haaren and A. B. Poland
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Lived from 1400-1468
While Joan of Arc was busy rescuing France from the English, another wonderful worker
was busy in Germany. This was John Gutenberg, who was born in Mainz.
The Germans--and most other people--think that he was the inventor of the art of printing
with movable types. And so in the cities of Dresden and Mainz his countrymen have put
up statues in his memory.
Gutenberg's father was a man of good family. Very likely the boy was taught to read. But
the books from which he learned were not like ours; they were written by hand. A better
name for them than books is "manuscripts," which means "hand-writings."
While Gutenberg was growing up a new way of making books came into use, which was
a great deal better than copying by hand. It was what is called block-printing. The printer
first cut a block of hard wood the size of the page that he was going to print. Then he cut
out every word of the written page upon the smooth face of his block. This had to be very
carefully done. When it was finished the printer had to cut away the wood from the sides
of every letter. This left the letters raised, as the letters are in books now printed for the
The block was now ready to be used. The letters were inked, paper was laid upon them
and pressed down.
With blocks the printer could make copies of a book a great deal faster than a man could
write them by hand. But the making of the blocks took a long time, and each block would
print only one page.
Gutenberg enjoyed reading the manuscripts and block books that his parents and their
wealthy friends had; and he often said it was a pity that only rich people could own
books. Finally he determined to contrive some easy and quick way of printing.
He did a great deal of his work in secret, for he thought it was much better that his
neighbors should know nothing of what he was doing.
So he looked for a workshop where no one would be likely to find him. He was now
living in Strasburg, and there was in that city a ruined old building where, long before his
time, a number of monks had lived. There was one room of the building which needed
only a little repairing to make it fit to be used. So Gutenberg got the right to repair that
room and use it as his workshop.