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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.

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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 blind.

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


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.

All his neighbors wondered what became of him when he left home in

the early morning, and where he had been when they saw him coming

back late in the twilight. Some felt sure that he must be a wizard,

and that he had meetings somewhere with the devil, and that the

devil was helping him to do some strange business.

Gutenberg did not care much what people had to say, and in his

quiet room he patiently tried one experiment after another, often

feeling very sad and discouraged day after day because his experiments

did not succeed.

At last the time came when he had no money left. He went back to

his old home, Mainz, and there met a rich goldsmith named Fust (or


Gutenberg told him how hard he had tried in Strasburg to find some

way of making books cheaply, and how he had now no more money to

carry on his experiments. Fust became greatly interested and gave

Gutenberg what money he needed. But as the experiments did not

at first succeed Fust lost patience. He quarreled with Gutenberg

and said that he was doing nothing but spending money. At last he

brought suit against him in the court, and the judge decided in

favor of Fust. So everything in the world that Gutenberg had, even

the tools with which he worked, came into Fust's possession.

But though he had lost his tools, Gutenberg had not lost his courage.

And he had not lost all his friends. One of them had money, and he

bought Gutenberg a new set of tools and hired a workshop for him.

And now at last Gutenberg's hopes were fulfilled. First of all it

is thought that he made types of hard wood. Each type was a little

block with a single letter at one end. Such types were a great

deal better than block letters. The block letters were fixed.

They could not be taken out of the words of which they were parts.

The new types were movable so they could be set up to print one

page, then taken apart and set up again and again to print any

number of pages.

But type made of wood did not always print the letters clearly and

distinctly, so Gutenberg gave up wood types and tried metal types.

Soon a Latin Bible was printed. It was in two volumes, each of

which had three hundred pages, while each of the pages had forty-two

lines. The letters were sharp and clear. They had been printed

from movable types of metal.

The Dutch claim that Lorenz Coster, a native of Harlem, in the

Netherlands, was the first person who printed with movable type.

They say that Coster was one day taking a walk in a beech forest

not far from Harlem, and that he cut bark from one of the trees

and shaped it with his knife into letters.

Not long after this the Dutch say Coster had made movable types

and was printing and selling books in Harlem.

The news that books were being printed in Mainz by Gutenberg went

all over Europe, and before he died printing-presses like his were

at work making books in all the great cities of the continent.

About twenty years after his death, when Venice was the richest of

European cities, a man named Aldus (Al'-dus) Manutius (Ma-nu'-tius)

established there the most famous printing house of that time.

He was at work printing books two years before Columbus sailed on

his first voyage. The descendents of Aldus continued the business

after his death for about one hundred years. The books published

by them were called "Aldine," from Aldus. They were the most

beautiful that had ever come from the press. They are admired and

valued to this day.