Gutenberg, Johannes (1395-1468)Johannes Gutenberg (1395-1468) -  Gutenberg was not the first to invent either the printing press or movable type.  Those were invented in Asia centuries earlier.  Unfortunately, the massive number of characters in Eastern writing made early movable type presses so cumbersome that it never really caught on there.  Gutenberg was the first European to invent the movable type printing press and it quickly became popular in the West.  It is, in all likelihood, the single most significant event of the Renaissance Period.  Not only that, but it was primarily responsible for the success of the Reformation; thus tying the two movements (Renaissance & Reformation) together.  Today, the Reformation is considered a product of the Renaissance, and it largely has the printing press to thank for that.  It also made possible the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, which followed quickly on the heels of the Reformation.  Gutenberg invented his printing press around 1439.  We don't know how he came up with the idea or what inspired him.  Presses of various types (such as a wine press) had existed for centuries.  They employ a screw shaft turned by a handle (or wheel) which presses a ram down onto another surface.  Block printing had also been in existence for years which could print various patterns or designs, but nothing intricate like pages full of words (certainly not an entire book).  Gutenberg somehow thought to cast individual letters which could be lined up in the press to print an entire page of a book all at once; thus combining the printing press and movable type into one machine.  And the use of metal cast letters was an improvement over the earlier Chinese printing presses which used wood or clay blocks (those materials could only survive being pressed so long before breaking).  Gutenberg's printing press represented a giant leap forward in human progress.  Information spread rapidly throughout the populace and literacy skyrocketed.  Prior to Gutenberg's press, it's estimated that the technology level between East and West were roughly equivalent.  After it, Europe surpassed Asia technologically for the next several centuries.