15th Century: Johann Gutenberg (c. 1395-1468)

The obscure printer's innovation kindled reformations and a yet unfinished information revolution

The French peasant girl who rallied her country's dispirited troops against the occupying English forces; the Turkish ruler who conquered Constantinople and enlarged what would become the millennium's most durable empire; the Italian navigator who sailed the ocean blue in 1492. Joan of Arc, Sultan Mehmet II and Christopher Columbus indisputably made lasting history. But it was one of their 15th century contemporaries who created a revolutionary way to spread not only their names and deeds but the sum total of human knowledge around the globe.

Johann Gutenberg was born of well-to-do parents in the Archbishopric of Mainz, Germany. Details of...

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