Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Johann Gutenberg

Hypothetical portrait of Johann Gutenberg, from 1584.

Mainz, Germany (from Braun & Hogenberg, Civitates orbis terrarum, 1572).

Very little is known about Johann Gutenberg, including his actual date of birth. Even the portrait seen here is based on guesses about his appearance. Most of what scholars know about Gutenberg comes from a handful of legal and financial documents.

Johann Gensfleisch zum Gutenberg was born into an aristocratic family of skilled metal craftsmen. Knowledge of metals was useful to him as he developed his method of casting printing type. Before beginning his work on the Bible around 1450, he experimented with printing single sheets of paper and even small books.

In 1455, Gutenberg was sued by his wealthy business partner Johann Fust for the return of large sums of money. In all probability, these funds were used in the development of printing and the production of Gutenberg's Bible. Gutenberg lost this suit and presumably had to turn over some of his printing equipment to Fust.

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Little is known about Gutenberg's later years, although he was given a pension by the Archbishop of Mainz and probably continued to print and develop new techniques until his death in 1468. Gutenberg's grave is now lost, but his legacy lives on.

In 1997, Gutenberg's invention was chosen as the most important of the second millennium by Time-Life Magazine. Two years later, the A&E Network ranked Gutenberg the most influential person of the second millennium on their "Biographies of the Millennium" countdown.

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