The First “Information Age” Inventing the Printing Press – History 101

The First “Information Age” Inventing the Printing Press – History 101

February 26, 2016
Circa 1450, Johannes Gutenberg (1400 - 1468) inventor of printing examines a page from his first printing press. (Photo by Rischgitz/Getty Images)

Circa 1450, Johannes Gutenberg (1400 – 1468) inventor of printing examines a page from his first printing press. (Photo by Rischgitz/Getty Images)

The History of Printing
Some assert that no invention in the history of man has had a greater influence on society than the introduction of printing in the 15th century. The development of printing has made it possible for books, newspapers, magazines, and other reading materials to be produced in great numbers, and it plays an important role in promoting literacy among the masses.

Even our cave dwelling ancestors knew the importance of painting and stencilling over 40,000 years ago by leaving impressions of their hands or depicting their stories through hunting murals. In Mesopotamia some 5,000 years ago, impressions were made on clay tablets for a variety of uses. Nearly 4,000 years later China created paper, water colour inks, woodblock printing, and moveable printing types.

Circa 1450, Johannes Gutenberg (1400 - 1468) inventor of printing examines a page from his first printing press. (Photo by Rischgitz/Getty Images)

Circa 1450, Johannes Gutenberg (1400 – 1468) inventor of printing examines a page from his first printing press. (Photo by Rischgitz/Getty Images)

The Father of Printing When paper became widely available in Europe c.1400AD, Germany’s Johannes Gutenberg (c. 1398 – 1468) invented the hand operated mechanical “Moving Type,” also known as the Printing Press. Contemporary commentators say his work led to an “Information Revolution” that can be likened to what has happened with the development of the internet today.

The early modern wine grape press (earlier used for olives) was a screw press which was modified in Europe for a wide range of uses and provided Gutenberg with the model for his printing press.

While he was developing the press, Gutenberg also invented oil based inks which was needed to create successful impressions. To top it off, he decided black and white wasn’t good enough and invented the first colour prints halfway through the 15th century. Historians mark this period as the “Age of Printing” in Europe, when standard typography and fonts were established for the first time.

It wasn’t until 1476 that England established their first printing press; while the first arrived in British North America (Cambridge, Massachusetts Bay Colony) in 1638. This original press made its way to the newly opened Harvard College and printed exclusively for the colony.

The Gutenberg press (240 impressions/hour) was much more efficient than manual copying and still was largely unchanged over 300 years later. By 1800, a press constructed completely from cast iron reduced the force required by 90% while doubling the size of the printed area; press efficiency was still only 480 sheets per hour.

1280px-Hoe's_six-cylinder_pressTwo ideas altered the design of the printing press radically: First, the use of steam power for running the machinery (1843), and second, the replacement of the printing flatbed with the rotary motion cylinders. Mass production of printed works flourished after these inventions and rolled paper were used. It’s at this point that conventional printing history continues on and where “Flexographic Printing” branches off.

Flexography Printing History In 1890, the first such patented press was built in Liverpool, England by Bibby, Baron and Sons. The water-based ink smeared easily, leading the device to be known as “Bibby’s Folly” (aka Foolishness). In the early 1900s, other European presses using rubber printing plates and aniline oil-based ink were developed. This led to the process being called “aniline printing”. By the 1920s, most presses were made in Germany, where the process was called “gummidruck,” or rubber printing.

Fitzwilliam_Press_Room_1917

During the early part of the 20th century, the technique was used extensively in food packaging in the United States. However, in the 1940s, the Food and Drug Administration classified aniline dyes as unsuitable for food packaging. Printing sales plummeted. Individual firms tried using new names for the process, such as “Lustro Printing” and “Transglo Printing,” but met with limited success. Even after the Food and Drug Administration approved the aniline process in 1949 using new, safe inks, sales continued to decline as some food manufacturers still refused to consider aniline printing.

The Packaging Institute’s Printed Packaging Committee narrowed the selection to three possibilities from 200 submissions: “Permatone Process”, “Rotopake Process”, and “Flexographic Process”. Postal ballots from readers of a printing magazine overwhelmingly chose “Flexographic Process.”

Typical products printed using flexography include brown corrugated boxes, flexible packaging including retail and shopping bags, food and hygiene bags and sacks, flexible plastic, self adhesive labels, and wallpaper.

Associated Labels ad Packaging Flexography printing has always been a part of Associated Labels and Packaging history. Our research and development team is always on the look out for new processes and technology to advance our company. With over 35 years of experience, we will continue to grow along side history. We have even created our own history as a partner in the creation of the first backyard compostable stand-up pouch.

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