Johannes Gutenberg

Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg was born in Germany, 1398.  Before movable type, Gutenberg was involved in a scheme to sell magic mirrors that captured the light from holy relics.  It went bust.  He then borrowed money from Johann Fust to fund his movable type printing press project.  Products of Gutenberg’s printing press are hard to identify, as he didn’t include any publisher’s information.  It’s understandable; if you were the only person in the world, would you bother to name yourself?

The most famous product was a version of the Bible.  Gutenberg’s Bible lacked a few modern conveniences, such as page numbers, indentation, or paragraph breaks.  It cost three-years’ wages for an average clerk.  The market wasn’t competitive.  The Bibles didn’t sell particularly well; Gutenberg made more money on indulgences for the Catholic church.  That says something about the nature of religion but I don’t know what.

Fust was alarmed at the growing Biblical debt, and sued, receiving control of the press and half the Bibles.  From then on, Fust put a name and date on all products.  Gutenberg was given some recognition and some clothes by the court of Bishop von Nassau, which helped as von Nassau had exiled him.  Gutenberg still died relatively unknown, his grave later destroyed.  He would remain obscure until his inclusion in a book of famous Germans one hundred years later.

The life of Gutenberg shows us that when you invent a new medium of communication, you should mention your name with it as much as possible.  You can’t expect people to just remember.

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