A man of mystery. Sadly, very little is known about him. His real name was probably Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden, but he most likely went by a series of nicknames, such as “Henchen” or “Elle”. “Gutenberg” was the name of one of his family’s houses within the city of Mainz, Germany.
Born into an aristocratic family, Gutenberg was not an aristocrat himself (his father married a commoner). It is not known when Gutenberg was born. Around 1900, the city of Mainz decreed his birthdate to have fallen in June 1400, allowing them to throw a big summer party in his honor. Gutenberg died in 1468 in Eltville, up the Rhein from Mainz.
As a young man, Gutenberg left Mainz for Strasbourg, in present-day France. Sometime before 1450, he moved back home. Gutenberg worked as a goldsmith and became skilled in the casting of finite amounts of metal. Either in Strasbourg or Mainz, between ca. 1440 and 1450, Gutenberg invented the idea of printing with movable type in the west. He invented a way to cast individual letters cheaply, and also a means to print them (an probably the ink used, too!).
His first printed work was a Latin grammar. Later, he borrowed money to begin work on the first of a series of Bibles, the B42 (or 42-line Bible). He also printed indulgences, and a sort of proto-encyclopedia.
These major works were printed in Mainz, even if printing was not “invented” there. Gutenberg also had a studio in Frankfurt during his busiest years, were he farmed out some of the production work.
Around the year 2000, Gutenberg was voted “Man of the Millenium” by an international panel of scientists.
There is a comprehensive Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, which has three original Gutenberg Bibles in its collection.
Gutenberg! The Musical!