Joel Belz demonstrates the workings of an old printing press for World Journalism Institute students in 1999. (GWN Archive)

Joel Belz demonstrates the workings of an old printing press for World Journalism Institute students in 1999. (GWN Archive)

Archivist Elaine Engst poses with a typewriter used by E. B. White. (AP/Kevin Rivoli)

Archivist Elaine Engst poses with a typewriter used by E. B. White. (AP/Kevin Rivoli)

Before the invention of the printing press, people had to write out books by hand.

Before the invention of the printing press, people had to write out books by hand.

This illustration shows printers at work. On the left, one removes a printed sheet. The man next to him is inking. In the background, others are setting type.

This illustration shows printers at work. On the left, one removes a printed sheet. The man next to him is inking. In the background, others are setting type.

The printing press made it much easier to make newspapers, books, posters, and other printed material.

The printing press made it much easier to make newspapers, books, posters, and other printed material.

Good Words

Posted: September 1, 2021

“I believed then as I do now, in the goodness of the published word: It seemed to contain an essential goodness, like the smell of leaf mold.” — E.B. White

You might remember the fellow who wrote those words. He also authored the books Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and The Trumpet of the Swan. Like Mr. Bomer, E.B. White did his joyful work on a typewriter. We think of typerwriters as old tech. But that’s because we’ve never had to write in a scriptorium.

How many books do you have in your house? How many do you see just in the room where you’re sitting? Once upon a time, almost nobody owned books. Why? Because for a copy of a book to exist, someone had to write it out by hand!

Those someones were usually monks. Before the invention of the printing press, monks toiled away in cold rooms called scriptoriums copying out books. One book could take months. They wrote on expensive animal skins. Mistakes cost money. These monks could only dream of having something like a backspace key!

 The printing press changed everything. Printers lined up little letters in trays. The letters pressed ink onto pages. Then the letters came out. They could be rearranged and re-used for the next page or project.

Books became available to everyone. Suddenly, it made sense for most people to learn to read.

God cares deeply about the written (and printed!) word. Reading leads to pleasure, knowledge, and freedom. Readers with access to truth can make good decisions. Best of all, readers of God’s word can learn to love, enjoy, and obey their Creator.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. — John 1:1