- 5000-4000 B.C.: In order to record financial transactions and
later other records, people in the Middle East produce the world's first
writing by carving characters into clay tablets. Their form of writing,
called cuneiform, continues to be used for
the next 3000 years (Olmert 31).
- 3100 B.C.: Egyptians begin to use hieroglyphics
to record information. Eventually, they compose books on rolls of papyrus.
- c.500 B.C.: A great library is built in Alexandria, Egypt. By
the time it is burned in the fourth century A.D., it contains 40,000 books.
- 300 B.C.: People in Northern Europe begin writing curses, spells,
and other supernatural messages in the runic alphabet.
- c.105: The Chinese invent paper.
- c.300: The codex begins to take
hold as a popular form of book, eventually replacing the papyrus roll.
- c.300: Parchment replaces papyrus
as the most popular writing material in Europe.
- 698: The monk Eadfrith completes the Lindisfarne Gospels
in a monastery on Lindisfarne, a small island off the coast of northern
- 868: The Diamond Sutra, a sermon of Buddha, is published in
China through the use of woodblocks.
- c.1049: Pi Sheng invents movable type in China, but the enormous
Chinese alphabet of 40,000 characters and the absence of printing presses
in China hinder the development of the technology (Olmert 65).
- c.1150: Arabs introduce paper as a writing material in Spain.
- 1150-1250: Secular scribes replace monks as the primary producers
of books. "There is tantalizing evidence from the mid-12th century
of traveling craftsmen who must have hired themselves out to those who
wanted manuscripts made" (Olmert 10).
- c.1270: A paper mill, perhaps the first in Christian Europe,
is constructed in Fabriano, Italy.
- c.1300: The invention of eyeglasses helps scribes to create
more intricate manuscripts and helps readers to appreciate them.
- c.1430-1450: Johann
Gutenberg designs a printing press and movable type, which he uses
to print a Latin text book called De octo partibus orationis in
1448 and papal indulgences, single pages sold by the Church to raise money
for crusades and other projects, in 1454 and 1455. To imitate the look
of manuscripts written by scribes, Gutenberg uses rubrications,
several versions of each letter, abbreviations that scribes had used, and
other elements (Olmert 118).
- 1444: Cosimo de' Medici establishes the first public library,
the Bibliotheca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence, Italy
- c.1452-c.1455: Gutenberg prints about 200 copies of a two-volume
Bible, now known as the Gutenberg Bible. Only 48 of these Bibles survive.
- 1475: The Vatican Library opens.
- 1476: William Caxton introduces
the printing press in England
- c.1500: Roman typefaces, which are clean and easy to read, replace
the dense Gothic typefaces as the type of choice among European printers
- 1539: Breve y mas compendiosa doctrina christiana en lengua
mexicana y castellana, published in Mexico City, becomes the first
book printed in America.
- 1638-1640: The first printing press arrives in the American
colonies and is set up at Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Stephen Daye
and son Matthew print an almanac and The Bay Psalm Book.
- 1653: The American colonies' first public library is established
- 1663: Cambridge printer Samuel Green publishes missionary John
Eliot's Mamusse Wunneetu-panatamwe Up-Biblum God, an Algonquian
Bible and the first Bible published in the American colonies.
- 1658: In Germany, Johann Amos Comenius publishes Orbis sensualium
pictus, or The Visible World in Pictures, recognized as the
first children's book.
- 1671: According to one story, William Berkeley, governor of
the Virginia colony, says: "I thank God we have not free schools nor
printing; and I hope we shall not have these hundred years. For learning
has brought disobedience, and heresy, and sects into the world, and printing
has divulged them, and libels against the best government. God keep us
from both" (Olmert 136).
- 1690: The first paper mill in the American colonies is established
in Germantown, Pennsylvania.
- 1704: The Boston News-Letter becomes the colonies' first regularly
- c.1710: Printing becomes an important trade in colonial America.
Although printers make most of their income from printing blank forms,
such as deeds and contracts, and from printing government work, such as
proclamations and laws, many of them also publish newspapers and books.
Many printers' shops also served as post offices, and citizens regularly
stopped there for news about America and the rest of the world. Before
the Revolutionary War, America's printing presses usually came from other
countries, such as England, and the type often came from the Netherlands.
- 1728: Benjamin Franklin, who will
go on to become a major colonial printer, sets up shop in Philadelphia.
- 1751-1772: L'Encyclopedie, a set of 28 volumes edited
by philosopher Denis Diderot, is published in France.
- 1755: Samuel Johnson of England publishes A Dictionary of
the English Language, the first major dictionary of English.
- 1791: The American Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791, promises
freedom of the press in the First Amendment: "Congress shall make
no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free
exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;
or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government
for a redress of grievances."
- 1800: The United States government establishes the Library of
Congress, which will grow to become the largest collection of books and
other items in the world.
- 1822: The first steam-powered printing press in the United States
is built. In next few decades, this innovation, along with improved transportation
in the form of railroads, helps to make book publishing a large and profitable
business in the United States. American authors for the first time can
make a significant income from the sale of their works. Among the most
successful of these writers are Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper,
and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
- 1828: In the United States, Noah Webster publishes An American
Dictionary of the English Language, which contains 70,000 entries.
- 1884-1928: In England, the Oxford English Dictionary,
the most comprehensive dictionary of English, is published in 12 volumes.
- 1923-1932: Stanley Morris of England
creates some of the most popular typefaces of the 20th century, including
Times New Roman, Baskerville, and Fournier.
- 1992: The collection of the United States' Library of Congress--the
largest collection in the world--tops 100 million items, including 15 million
books, 39 million manuscripts, 13 million photographs, 4 million maps,
3.5 million pieces of music, and more than 500,000 movies (Cole 45).
- William Caxton (1422-1492) is known
primarily for bringing printing to England in 1476. A British wool merchant
who worked on the Continent, Caxton became interested in printing around
1471 after he had translated a French book of Greek legends and determined
to make copies of it (Olmert 125). Between 1472 and 1476, he printed seven
books in Bruges. In 1476, he returned to England, where he established
a printing business in London. Among the 100 or so books he published here
are Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in 1476-1478 and Thomas
Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, the most famous version of the story
of King Arthur, in 1485. Because his books--and the standardized English
contained within them--reached many parts of England, some linguistic scholars
have credited him with helping to bring about a standard English dialect
at a time when, as Caxton himself complained in one preface, residents
of different parts of the country could not understand one another.
- Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was
one of the major printers of colonial America, as well as an important
stateseman and writer. After working as an apprentice to his brother and
other printers, Franklin set up his own shop in Philadelphia in 1728. In
1730, he became the official printer of Pennsylvania. Perhaps his most
famous publications are his Poor Richard's Almanacs, which appeared annually
between 1732 and 1757. Compiled and largely written by Franklin himself,
these almanacs are famous for the sayings of the fictional "Poor Richard,"
such as "God helps them that help themselves" and "Early
to Bed, and early to rise, makes a Man healthy, wealthy, and wise."
- Johann Gutenberg (1397-1468) designed
a printing press and movable type, which made printing practical and efficient
for the first time. A German businessman with training in metallurgy, he
developed these revolutionary devices between 1430 and 1450, using them
to print a Latin text book called De octo partibus orationis in
1448 and papal indulgences, single pages sold by the Church to raise money
for crusades and other projects, in 1454 and 1455. Between 1452 and 1455,
he secured his place as one of the most important and famous people in
history by printing about 200 copies of a two-volume Bible, now known as
the Gutenberg Bible.
- Nicolaus Jenson (1420-1470), a Frenchman, is known for perfecting
Roman typefaces, which quickly replaced Gothic
typefaces as the fonts of choice for European printers.
- Aldus Manutius (1450-1515), an Italian printer, worked with
type designer Francesco Griffo to introduce the first italic type in 1500.
Aldus is also known for his edition of Hypnerotomachia
Poliphili. Published in 1499, it still is considered one of the
most beautiful printing jobs in history.
- Stanley Morris (1889-1967), a British
type designer, created some of the most popular typefaces of the 20th century,
including Baskerville, Garamond, and Fournier. In addition to designing
type for the Pelican Press and the Monotype Corporation, he created Times
New Roman for the London Times. Between 1923 and 1930, he published
Fleuron, a journal of typography. Among his books on typography
are 'Black Letter' Text, which he published in 1942, and John
Fell: The University Press and the 'Fell' Types, published in the last
year of his life.
- Letterpress: In this form of printing, the most
common form from the beginnings of large scale printing in the mid-15th
century until the middle of the 19th century, printers take individual
letters, each cast in a raised position on a small block, and arrange them
backwards in a frame, or chase. When they have finished the chase, which
usually contains between two and 16 pages, they place it on the bed of
the printing press, apply ink to the raised letters, and lay a sheet of
paper over the frame. By applying pressure to the paper with a large plate,
they force the ink on the letters to make an impression on the paper.
- Monotype: Using a monotype machine, invented in the 19th century,
printers can cast an individual piece of type simply by pressing a key,
as though typing.
- Linotype: Like the monotype machine,
the linotype machine allows operators to cast type by pressing keys, in
this case casting an entire line of type instead of individual letters.
This form of typesetting, which was invented in 1886 in New York, was the
most common in American until the 1950s.
- Offset: This form of printing, in which letters are photographed
instead of cast in type, became the most popular in the 1950s and continues
to be used today. After photographing pages, printers shine light through
the negatives onto photosensitive plates, causing letters and pictures
to appear on the plates, where they will accept ink. These thin plates
then are wrapped around rollers, inked, and pressed against rubber rollers,
which then are pressed against rolls of paper, creating pages.
- book of hours: a medieval prayer book containing prayers, hymns,
and psalms that the owner was supposed to read at eight hours during each
day. Because extant examples show few markings, modern experts believe
these books were primarily status symbols rather than frequently used tools
of worship (Olmert 84-88).
- codex: a form of book in which sheets
of parchment or paper are bound together. Among the Romans, the codex began
to replace the papyrus roll as the dominant form of book in the 4th century.
- cuneiform: the first form of writing,
used by people in the Middle East between 5000 and 1000 B.C.
- folio: a book whose pages are created
by folding a large sheet of paper once, resulting in two leaves.
- font: "A complete set of type
characters in a particular face, style, size, and weight" (Pickens
- Gothic typefaces: dense typefaces
used by early printers such as Johann Gutenberg. By about 1500, they had
been largely replaced by Roman typefaces, which
are much easier to read.
- hieroglyphic: a form of writing used
by the Egyptians between 3100 B.C. and A.D. 400. In 1822, Jean-Francois
Champollion of France used the recently discovered Rosetta Stone--which
features a message in Egyptian hieroglyphics, Egyptian demotic, and Greek--to
decipher hieroglyphics for the first time in the modern age.
- illumination: painted designs added as decoration to medieval
manuscripts and later printed books.
books published before 1500; the term comes from a Latin word meaning "swaddling
- leaves: sheets of paper in a book;
each leaf, if printed on both sides, has two pages.
- manuscript: derived from the Latin
words manu (hand) and scriptus (writing), the word manuscript
refers to a piece of papyrus, parchment, or paper with writing on it. Before
the 15th century, when Johann Gutenberg developed movable
type, virtually all written literature--including the Bible, Beowulf,
and Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales--were in manuscript form.
Because it was difficult for many people to read a work available only
in a single manuscript, people called scribes--often monks--made copies
- octavo: a book whose pages are created
by folding a large sheet of paper four times, resulting in eight leaves.
- paper: writing material made from
wood pulp, hemp, and other plant fibers. Invented in China around A.D.
105 and introduced to the Arab world in 751, paper did not replace parchment
in Europe until the age of the printing press, beginning in the 1450s.
- papyrus: a plant that grows in the
Nile valley in Egypt or the writing material made from the pith of this
- parchment: a cured sheepskin or goatskin
used as the pages in medieval manuscripts. Parchment and vellum replaced
papyrus as the favorite writing materials in Europe around the 4th century.
- pictograph: a picture meant to represent an idea. Instead of
using letters to spell words, early written languages communicated information
- quarto: a book whose pages are created
by folding a large sheet of paper twice, resulting in four leaves.
- rubrication: an ornate initial letter
added by artists, or rubricators, to pages of medieval manuscripts and
later printed books.
- Roman typefaces: clean, easy-to-read
typefaces developed in the late 15th century by Germans Conrad Sweynheym
and Arnold Pannartz and perfected by Frenchman Nicolaus Jenson in the same
century. Roman typefaces largely replaced the denser Gothic
faces by about 1500 and continue to be the typefaces of choice today.
- rune: any one of the 24 characters
in the runic alphabet, an alphabet in use in England, Scandinavia, and
other parts of Northern Europe between A.D. 200 and 1200. Perhaps because
they usually were carved into stone, wood, and other materials, runes consist
primarily of straight lines. Messages recorded in runes were associated
with mystery and the supernatural.
- sans serif: literally, in Latin,
"without serif." Some popular sans serif typefaces are Helvetica
- scriptorium: a space set aside for the copying of manuscripts
in medieval monasteries.
- serif: an extra line, usually small
and light in Roman typefaces, that appears on the corners of letters. A
holdover from the days when scribes wrote out manuscripts, serifs facilitate
reading by guiding the eye from letter to letter. Some of the most popular
typefaces--including Times New Roman, Bembo, and Garamond--are serif fonts.
- signature: a collection of leaves,
created by folding a large sheet of paper one or more times. In a quarto,
for example, each signature has four leaves, eight pages. The signatures
are bound together to form a book.
- syllabary: a set of characters, each of which represents a syllable.
Early written languages, such as ones used by the Mayas and early Mesopotamians,
used syllabaries instead of alphabets, which consist of a character for
each individual sound. Example: <! (syllabary) = carpet (alphabet).
- typeface: a particular set of letters,
a through z, along with punctuation marks, designed to be used together
in printing a body of text. Examples: Bembo, Garamond, Helvetica,
Palatino, Times New Roman, Zapf Chancery.
- type high: .918 inch, the height of a block of type from base
to the top of the letter.
- vellum: a cured calfskin used as the pages in medieval manuscripts.
- web: a roll of paper used in offset printing.
- woodblock: a plate of wood in which
letters, pictures, or both are carved. A printer then inks this woodblock
and presses it against paper to print a page. This oldest form of printing,
in use in China as early as 868, was extremely time-consuming because a
woodblock had to be carved for each page, and letters could not be rearranged
and reused. Nevertheless, European printers used woodblocks to create playing
cards and textiles (Olmert 114).
- bibliomancy: the practice of opening a book, such as the Bible,
to a random page and reading the words there for a prophetic message about
one's future (Olmert 23)
- The original "bonfires of the vanities" took place
in 1495 in Florence, where a friar named Savonarola burned works by Ovid,
Danta, Boccaccio, and other authors (Olmert 24)
- How important is the printer's trade? In laying the type for a Bible
in 1631, a compositor left out a word in the Ten Commandments. In this
book, which came to be called the Wicked Bible, Exodus 20:14 reads:
"Thou shalt commit adultery."
- Clair, Colin. A Chronology of Printing. New York: Frederick
A. Praeger, 1969.
- Cole, John Y. Jefferson's Legacy: A Brief History of the Library
of Congress. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1993.
- McMurtrie, Douglas C. The Book: The Story of Printing and Bookmaking.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1943.
- --. A History of Printing in the United States. New York: Burt
- Olmert, Michael. The Smithsonian Book of Books. New York: Wings
- Pickens, Judy E. The Copy-to-Press Handbook: Preparing Words and
Art for Print. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1985.
- Rouse, Parke, Jr., and Thomas K. Ford. The Printer in Eighteenth-Century
Williamsburg. Williamsburg: Colonial Williamsburg, 1995.
- Thorpe, James. The Gutenberg Bible: Landmark in Learning. San
Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library, 1975.