It was about the middle of the 15th century, that printing from movable wooden blocks was first introduced, in the town of Mainz in Germany. The first printing press in England was set up by Caxton, in 1477. Metal types were introduced later, but up to the end of the 18th century, the printing presses were worked by hand.
The steam printing press came in the 19th century; and the great modern presses, which can turn out thousands of copies of a newspaper in an hour, are as different from the first primitive wooden-block hand-press used by Caxton. The importance of the invention of the printing press can scarcely be exaggerated.
Perhaps no invention has brought about such changes in human society. The invention of the printing press led at once to the rapid multiplication of books and the cheapening of their price. Formerly every book had to be laboriously copied out by hand — a slow and tedious process.
It might take a scribe a year to produce one copy. In consequence, books were very scarce and very expensive, and only the rich could afford to possess any. Now thousands of copies of a book can be printed in a week and in consequence, they can be sold very cheaply.
This multiplication and cheapening of books has made universal education possible. Knowledge, which was once the exclusive possession of a select few, is now the free inheritance of all. Any man who can read (and in a country like England the poorest workman can read) has now the “open sesame” to the literature and learning of the world.
And the printing press has made the newspaper possible, and it would be difficult to estimate the extent of the power of the press informing and educating public opinion.