Who Was Gutenberg, Anyway?

Regarding exogenous technological change, it occured to me that I didn’t really know who Gutenberg was, nor whether he fit the profile.

I’m quoting a bio of him in full, because it doesn’t have a copyright on it and I can’t figure out where it came from originally, other than by the style of writing it is probably 19th century or earlier and probably a translation of a German original, and thus likely long out of copyright:

GUTENBERG, JOHANNES, or Henne, who is regarded as the inventor of the art of employing movable types in printing, was born near the close of the 14th century, at Mainz. He was sprung from a patrician family, which took the name of Gutenberg, or Gensfleisch, from two estates in its Possession. Of Gutenberg’s early life no particulars are known, but it seems probable that he devoted himself at an early age to mechanical arts.

Biography of Gutenberg

For “patrician family” then read “middle-class” now. He was apparently a tinker, who might have been tuning cars in the 1950s or computers in the late 20th century or early 21st.
When and where the first attempts in the art of printing were made, cannot now with certainty be ascertained, as the works printed by Gutenberg bear neither name nor date; this much however, is certain; namely, that movable wooden types were first employed by him about the year 1438. In 1443, he returned from Strasbourg to Mainz, where in 1449 or 1450 he entered into partnership with Johannes Faust, or Fust, a wealthy goldsmith.
Faust? As in pact-with-the-devil Dr. Faust or Faustus of Chrisopher Marlowe, Gooethe, Mann, etc.? Nah, that’s supposed to be Dr. Johann Georg Faust, ca. 1480-1540. Still a strange coincidence of names; maybe Gutenberg’s Johannes Faust was an ancestor of Johan Georg Faust; you’d think somebody would have researched that already. Meanwhile, remember Marlowe’s Faustus’s final conclusion: “I’ll burn my books!” Books that were made posssible by Gutenberg.
Faust furnished the money to set up a printing press, on which the Latin Bible was first printed. This partnership was, however, dissolved after the lapse of a few years. Faust had made large advances which Gutenberg was now to refund, but as he possessed neither the power nor the inclination, the matter was brought before a court of justice. The result was that Faust obtained the printing concern, which he carried on and brought to perfection in conjunction with Peter Schoffer, of Gerusheim.
Oh, my: early venture capitalist gains control of venture by expelling founder.jj How Silicon Valley. By the assistance of Conrad Hummer, a councillor of Mainz, Gutenberg was again enabled to set up a press. Gutenberg’s printing establishment existed until 1465 in Mainz. He died, as is generally believed, February 24th, 1498, in which year the archbishop, Elector of Mainz, appointed him one of his courtiers, and raised him to the rank of a noble, though others place his death at the close of the previous year. Entrepeneur finds other backing, and even gets award.

OK, let’s turn to a different source:

A cloud of deep obscurity thus conceals for the most part the life of the inventor, his personality, the time and place of his invention, and particularly the part he personally took in the production of the printed works that have come down to us from this period.

Johann Gutenberg, New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia

Such obscurity is appropriate for someone who was not one of the establishment, no? Especially in a period when history was written about rulers and church people ?
On the other hand, expert research has thrown much light on the printed works connected with the name of Gutenberg, and has established more definitely the nature of his invention. Mainly from the technical examination of the impressions of the earliest Gutenberg productions, the “Poem of the Last Judgment” and the “Calendar for 1448”, it has been shown that he effected substantial improvements in methods of printing and in its technical auxiliaries, especially in the printer’s ink and in the building of printing presses.
He was a hacker. Computers hadn’t been invented yet, so he was hacking type.

Exogenous technological change, indeed. He wasn’t a scribe, a monk, or a noble. He was a tinker; a hacker; a technologist. Even if he was ennobled at the end of his life. Shades of Sir Dr. Tim Berners-Lee.

But what good was Gutenberg’s invention?

The invention of Gutenberg should be classed with the greatest events in the history of the world. It caused a revolution in the development of culture, equalled by hardly any other incident in the Christian Era. Facility in disseminating the treasure of the intellect was a necessary condition for the rapid development of the sciences in modern times. Happening as it did just at the time when science was becoming more secularized and its cultivation no longer resigned almost entirely to the monks, it may be said that the age was pregnant with this invention. Thus not only is Gutenberg’s art inseparable from the progress of modern science, but it has also been an indispensable factor in the education of the people at large. Culture and knowledge, until then considered aristocratic privileges peculiar to certain classes, were popularized by typography, although in the process it unfortunately brought about an internal revolution in the intellectual world in the direction of what is profane and free from restraint.

This last is again from the Catholic Encyclopedia, which is a Catholic view after the Counter-Reformation failed to suppress some of the religious cascade effects of Gutenberg’s invention, such as the Reformation. The classes which held the aristocratic privileges of culture and knowledge unsuccessfully tried to suppress the results of Gutenberg’s revolution. Only much later could a Catholic encyclopedia, for example, write positively of “what is profane and free from restraint.”

Nowadays, bloggers for the presidential campaign of John Edwards end up quitting due to criticism for being profane and free from restraint. We haven’t yet weathered our counter-Reformation against the revolution of the Internet. If we want to preserve the Internet as the basis of our facility in disseminating the treasure of the intellect (and the id and the libido), to wrest it away from the control of the properly designated distributors (then the monks with their imprimatur from the local bishop