History of Printing Lesson Plan

History of Printing

Nanos gigantum humeris insidentes.

Lesson Overview 

Explore the history of the printing press from prehistory to modern 3-D printing, engaging with deep questions about the nature of technology and responsibility. This middle or high school lesson on the history of printing, innovation, and how technology intersects with social change. Includes optional 3-D printing project of a printing press, project based and inquiry based learning.

The lesson begins with a project to 3-D print the components of a variation on the Gutenberg press, the final step of which is to print a QR code that links to an AR experience through the Metaverse app. This experience guides learners through the history and future of printing. The final part of the lesson is the inquiry discussion on the implications of technology to enable and inhibit social change.

Interdisciplinary Applications: History, Art, Technology, Computer Science, Philosophy

Inquiry Questions

How do we create something? What is our responsibility when developing and using technology? What is the importance of free exchange of information in a democracy? How does technology enable social change?

Lesson Components

3-D Printing a Gutenberg-like Press Instructions

For a description of the process, please go to https://learningflourishing.com/printinghistory/


This is a multi-phase project to design a small printing press and exchangeable print panels. It uses links from a variety of sources to build a working press.


  • 3-D Printer
  • Laser Cutter
  • Computer with appropriate software
  • 1- ¾” x 4 bolt
  • 1-¾” lock nut
  • 1-¾” nut
  • ¾” MDF board
  • Print Ink
  • Roller
  • Thick paper


  1. Print Printer components
    1. Thingiverse
      1. Main printer components
        1. https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2551891
    2. Tinkercad
      1. Press ball
        1. https://www.tinkercad.com/things/e4yEBGn3e5u
      2. Print plate template
        1. https://www.tinkercad.com/things/avn57OkACaE-gutenberg-press-print-plate
  2. Design and cut print plates
    1. Design the plates in your preferred software, remembering to save the treatment as an image, not a PDF
  3. Construct  the press
  4. Cut paper to fit your plates
  5. Roll ink on plates
  6. Place plate in 
  7. Print with the plates.

History of Printing Metaverse Experience


History of Printing MetaVerse Script

  • Our names are Cameron and Rachel and welcome to this History of Printing Learning Experience!
  • The history of printing is important for today because it intersects with interesting questions about innovation and access to information.
  • Learn about the history of Printing
    • During this experience you will explore the history of the major innovations in printing history, then explore the future of printing.
    • If you would like a quick overview or the printing history, you can read through this great timeline by American Printing History Association.
    • The history of printing is almost as old as written language. By 3100 BCE Cuneiform was developed in Sumer (modern day Iraq). Wedge-shaped marks were made on clay tablets by a blunt stylus cut from a reed.
    • Printing first developed in Asia with paper and block printing well before Marco Polo reported printed money in China in 1298.
    • In 1436 Gutenberg starts working on a printing press. It takes him four years to finish his wooden press which uses movable metal type. 
    •  This image shows a replica of a press from that era. It uses relief printing.
    • The press itself is based on the wine presses that were already in use for centuries in that region. Relief printing, through woodblock printing, also isn’t new. Movable type had already been used in the East. 
    • What Gutenberg does is bring these various technologies, including the proper type of ink, together. His real innovation is the molding system that enables a printer to create as many lead characters as are needed for printing a book or pamphlet.
    • The first known color printing is used in 1457 in ‘Mainz Psalter’, a book containing a collection of psalms.  Color, in this case, does not mean full-color images but simply the use of a second color to highlight some initials, words or paragraphs.
    • In 1561 when French type designer, publisher and punch-cutter Claude Garamond passes away, his widow is forced to sell his punches. This causes the typefaces of Garamond to become widely used for the next two centuries. 
    • The next major innovation in printing happens in 1814 when Friedrich Gottlob Koenig and Andreas Friedrich Bauer build their first cylinder press, which is much faster than the existing flatbed presses.
    • One of the first customers is John Walter of The Times. The first issue of The London Times that is printed with the new presses is published in 1814. 
    • The press is installed in secret to avoid sabotage by disgruntled pressmen operating the existing Stanhope presses. The machine is capable of printing over 1100 double-sided sheets per hour.
    • In 1876 Thomas Edison receives a patent for a printing mechanism that around 1890 will result in the mimeograph or stencil duplicator. The Mimeo name is a trademark of Albert Blake Dick who licenses Edison’s patents. 
    • They allow anyone to inexpensively print dozens or hundreds of copies of a typed page. These small duplicators remain popular until photocopying becomes affordable.
    • In 1959 the Xerox 914 is the first successful plain paper copier. It can make six copies per minute and had been preceded in 1949 by the ‘Model A’, the first commercial xerographic copier.
    • In 1975 the first laser printers, such as the IBM 3800 and Xerox 9700, hit the market. They are prohibitively expensive but useful for applications such as cheque printing…
    • Modern printing has continued to evolve to faster and cheaper printing method. Click below to see 360 degree videos from inside the presses…
  • Learn about the future of printing…

Discussion Prompts

General Discussion questions: 

  • What is our responsibility when developing and using technology? 
  • What is the importance of free exchange of information in a democracy? 
  • How does technology enable social change?

Quotes to Discuss or Respond to: 

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”
-Isaac Newton, 1695

What does Newton mean?

“…I am persuaded myself that the good sense of the people will always be found to be the best army. They may be led astray for a moment, but will soon correct themselves. The people are the only censors of their governors: and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty. …The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.
― Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carringon, 1787, “Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington.” 

Why do you think Jefferson says that he would prefer newspapers without government? What do you think Jefferson would say about freedom on speech on the internet?

“Every school boy and school girl who has arrived at the age of reflection ought to know something about the history of the art of printing, papermaking, and so forth. … All children will work better if pleased with their tools; and there are no tools more ingeniously wrought, or more potent than those which belong to the art of the printer. Dynasties and governments used to be attacked and defended by arms; now the attack and the defence are mainly carried on by types. To sustain any scheme of state policy, to uphold one administration or to demolish another, types, not soldiers, are brought into line. Hostile parties, and sometimes hostile nations, instead of fitting out martial or naval expeditions, establish printing presses, and discharge pamphlets or octavoes at each other, instead of cannon balls. The poniard and the stiletto were once the resource of a murderous spirit; now the vengeance, which formerly would assassinate in the dark, libels character, in the light of day, through the medium of the press. 

But through this instrumentality good can be wrought as well as evil. Knowledge can be acquired, diffused, perpetuated. An invisible, inaudible, intangible thought in the silent chambers of the mind, breaks away from its confinement, becomes imbodied in a sign, is multiplied by myriads, traverses the earth, and goes resounding down to the latest posterity.”
― Horace Mann “Printing and Paper Making” in The Common School Journal Vol. V, No. 3 (1 February 1843)

Why did Mann think that every child should learn about the art of printing? What do you think would be the modern skill that would serve the same function? 

“The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie—a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days—but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.”
― Hannah Arendt, Hannah Arendt: From an Interview. Comments made in 1974 during an interview with the French writer Roger Errera and published in October 26, 1978 issue of The NewYork Review of Books Interview. Copyright © 1978 Mary McCarthy West, Trustee. 

What does Arendt believe is the danger of censoring publication? What do you think the implications are in the digital communication age?

“I know that science and technology are not just cornucopias pouring good deeds out into the world. Scientists not only conceived nuclear weapons; they also took political leaders by the lapels, arguing that their nation — whichever it happened to be — had to have one first. … There’s a reason people are nervous about science and technology.

And so the image of the mad scientist haunts our world—from Dr. Faust to Dr. Frankenstein to Dr. Strangelove to the white-coated loonies of Saturday morning children’s television. (All this doesn’t inspire budding scientists.) But there’s no way back. We can’t just conclude that science puts too much power into the hands of morally feeble technologists or corrupt, power-crazed politicians and decide to get rid of it. Advances in medicine and agriculture have saved more lives than have been lost in all the wars in history. Advances in transportation, communication, and entertainment have transformed the world. The sword of science is double-edged. Rather, its awesome power forces on all of us, including politicians, a new responsibility — more attention to the long-term consequences of technology, a global and transgenerational perspective, an incentive to avoid easy appeals to nationalism and chauvinism. Mistakes are becoming too expensive.”
― Carl Sagan, in “Why We Need To Understand Science” in The Skeptical Inquirer Vol. 14, Issue 3, (Spring 1990)

What are the dangers that Sagan identifies? What is our responsibility with technology?

“Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of man. Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man.”
― John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Do you agree with Steinbeck? Why or why not?

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