His Life


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There are few documents available concerning the life of Johann Gutenberg. His birthdate is likewise unknown. Various calculations based on later archives suggest a very imprecise period somewhere between 1393 and 1403. Finally in 1900 international agreement was reached to take the year 1400 as Gutenberg's year of birth - an arbitrary decision which means that we, in 2000, now celebrate the 600th anniversary of his birth.

Mainz - View of the City. Colored illustration, 1565
Municipal Archive Mainz

"Henchen" Gutenberg was the son of Friele Gensfleisch zu Laden, a merchant and a citizen of Mainz and his wife, Else Wirich. The family first used the name Gutenberg in the 1420s. Like other Mainzer patricians, his father took his surname from their residence "zum Gutenberg" in Mainz. The large argicultural estate was spacious, with room enough for several families, and certainly with space for a printing shop.

In 1411 during a dispute with the guilds, one hundred and seventeen patricians left Mainz abruptly in order to underline their claim to certain tax and customs privileges. Gutenberg's father was one of the protesting patricians. He left, taking his children along. The family most probably moved to Eltville where the mother had inherited a house. In 1413, hunger riots again forced the family to leave Mainz. This forced flight from Mainz was a leitmotif which was to repeat itself often during Gutenberg's life.

Biografie Teil 2