Free Science Studies: Johannes Gutenberg & Printing

Johannes Gutenberg was a metal-worker and inventor who is best known for the invention of the printing press.

Read the following:

“John Gutenberg and the Invention of Printing”

  • Map the following (you’ll find mapping resources below):
  • View an early illuminated manuscript.
  • Learn more about parchment at Central European University.
  • View a decorated illuminated manuscript.
  • Learn more about medieval bookbinding at Central European University.
  • View a bound medieval book at the J. Paul Getty Museum.
  • See resources below for an excellent living book on how illuminators did their work.
  • If a laborer made fifteen cents each day and had no other expenses (nothing else he needed to purchase with his money), how long would it take him to buy a Bible? (Nearly three to four years depending on the cost.)
  • Explain (narrate) the process of making a block book (see pg. 190).
  • View a page from The Bible of the Poor mentioned in the text.
  • How long would the same laborer above take to purchase The Bible of the Poor (assuming no other expenses)?  (14 days)
  • Describe the step-by-step process of learning a trade in medieval times.
  • You’ll want to watch the video below to see how much faster printing is today than when the book was written!
  • Make a flip book that shows the problems Gutenberg had in trying to make letters from wood, lead, and iron.
  • Include a page in your flip book for the final solution Gutenberg found (pg. 196).
  • Learn more about print metal hardness.
  • View an illustration of the punch, matrix, and mold at the University of Texas.
  • Explain the use of the punch, the matrix, and the mold (pg. 197).
  • View an early wine press similar to that which inspired Gutenberg’s printing press.
  • View a replica of Gutenberg’s printing press.
  • Compare and contrast the early wine press with Gutenberg’s printing press.  How are they alike?  How are they different?
  • Learn more about print ink history at
  • View a photo of a Gutenberg Bible (the first to be brought to the United States).
  • Create a timeline of key events in printing press history (you’ll find resources below).
  • More about Johannes Gutenberg and printing from the Book of Knowledge:

    …[A]bout the middle of the fifteenth century, a man named Johann Gutenberg of Mainz, in Germany, solved the problem of producing books in quantity.  He worked for about twenty years on the idea that letters carved on separate little blocks of wood could be fitted together to make words and sentences and whole pages.  After a number of copies of the page had been printed, the same letters, or type, could be taken apart and easily put back together into new words and sentences for another page.  Slow as it seems to us today, Gutenberg’s hand-operated press, using movable type, could do the work of a hundred scribes — and do it better.

    What is generally considered Gutenberg’s masterpiece was printed between 1450 and 1456.  It was a large and handsome edition of the Bible, in two volumes.  A few copies of it still survive, in almost perfect condition, and are the most valuable books in the world today.

    Before Gutenberg died, the art of printing had spread all over Germany and into many other parts of Europe.  A way had been found to mold the letters out of metal.  Such letters could be made much faster and would wear much longer than the wooden type.  By 1500, a trifle more than thirty years after Gutenberg’s death, more than four thousand books had been printed in Europe.  In the year 1539, only forty-seven years after Columbus discovered America, a printing press was a work in the New World, in Mexico City.

    With books so much easier to own, more people than ever before could obtain an education.  Books were printed in Latin and Greek and also in modern languages, such as English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.  Accounts of travels, scientific discoveries and everyday happenings were eagerly read by an ever increasing number of people.  It was a “great awakening.”

    “The Magic of Printing” from The Book of Knowledge

Further Investigation

Johannes Gutenberg
Biography at

Gutenberg’s Invention
His contribution summarized.

An Industry Born
Timeline of key events in printing history at (scroll down).

The Making of a Medieval Book
From parchment making to binding at the J. Paul Getty Museum.


Book of Kells
Interactive at Trinity College in Dublin to help you view each page of this illuminated manuscript.

Gutenberg Bible
Interactive site at the University of Texas-Austin that provides a tour of Gutenberg’s invention.

Interactive Timeline Maker {Free}
Use this interactive at to create a timeline showing the key events in printing press history.

Gabriel and the Hour Book {Free eBook}

Gabriel and the Hour Book by Evaleen Stein
Tells the story of a young peasant who grinds and mixes the colors for the illuminators. Great book! Also available as a free download.

Unit Studies & Lesson Plans

Illumination Letters
Lesson plan at where students create their own illuminated letters.

The Printing Press
Simple lesson plan at the University of Utah that can be used with younger children to demonstrate the impact the printing press had on the way we live.

Printables & Notebooking Pages

Map of the Europe
At for locating Germany.

Map of Germany
PAT map for locating Mainz.

Johannes Gutenberg & Printing Notebooking Pages
Simple pages for copywork, narrations, or wrapping up.

Enjoy the entire series:
Free Science Studies: Great Inventors & Their Inventions
Free Science Studies: Great Inventors & Their Inventions

Create a website or blog at