A triumph for technology.


It was on this day, way back in 1517, that Martin Luther is said to have nailed his famous 95 theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittengberg. That act is frequently cited as the start of the Protestant Reformation, though apparently (as so often happens in revisionist history) whether Luther actually did any nailing is very much in question. Regardless of whether or not he nailed them to the door, however, we do know that Luther wrote his theses out in hand. We also know - it's become common knowledge - that the availability of printing played an important role in spreading Luther's theses throughout Europe. We don't know whether the Reformation would have gotten off the ground without the printing press, but we can safely say that the printing press helped out a great deal.

The folklore on this, however, is rather fascinating. Many accounts of this event credit Luther with attending to the printing, though what actually happened is that others jumped on the bandwagon and made what is considered the first mass public relations use of the printing press. Some accounts make Gutenberg and Luther contemporaries. On one web site, for instance, we read that:
It just so happened that the Gutenberg printing press was invented by Johann Gutenberg right around the same time that Martin Luther published his 95 Theses. In fact, Luther wrote the 95 theses in light of this invention. With the advent of the printing press, it was possible for Lutherís word to spread throughout Germany very quickly. Previous to the printing press, people with ideas had no way to spread them.
Considering that the accepted date for Gutenberg's invention (not exactly the printing press, but rather a set of inventions that included a press and, most important, moveable type) is about 1450, the "right about the same time" here is a spread of about 65 years. In this light, perhaps we should ask why it took people such a long time to realize the worth and importance of an invention which to us would seem so obvious.

And oh yes, it's hard not to scratch your head and wonder about that last sentence:
Previous to the printing press, people with ideas had no way to spread them.
As wonderful an invention as printing was, just off the top of my head I can still think of a handful of pre-printing ways of spreading ideas, starting with, say, word of mouth.



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