A German goldsmith living in the 1450s hid from the Catholic Church to invent what would not only bring the world out of the Dark Ages but become the first technology to spread information to the masses in the same revolutionary way the internet has led to an explosion of information accessibility today: the Gutenburg Press.
Today, Gutenburg’s grave is lost, but his influence is obvious — and the only working replica of his groundbreaking press in the entire world is sitting here in Utah County, at the Crandall Historical Printing Museum in Provo.
“We have no idea what the actual Gutenberg would have looked like,” explains Wally Saling, who’s part of museum staff. The Catholic Church had such control over the printed word that anyone who tried to operate their own printing business was hunted down and killed, so Gutenberg worked in secret and any designs of his original press have been lost.
“But,” says Saling, “we do know it looked like an olive screw press.” So the Crandall Museum’s reproduction is a replica of that model. The press is used during tours to demonstrate how the Bible would have been printed.
How the world’s only working replica of the Gutenberg Press came into being is a remarkable tale. Some years ago, Lewis Crandall worked as a printer and attended the Arizona State University. He went on to build an entire amusement park in Mesa called Legend City, and one of the attractions was a print shop.
Once he left Arizona for Utah, he attempted to build a ski resort but was hindered by some prominent figures in the area, so he decided to revisit his interests in printmaking history by opening a museum. Appealing to local cultural history, he displayed a replica of a press that was used to print the first editions of the Book of Mormon.
After experiencing some success, Crandall received a call from the LDS Church, who wished to borrow his press for display in Nauvoo. The exhibition went well, but on the way back to Utah the press was dropped and damaged. A skilled blacksmith named Steve Pratt then approached Crandall offering to fix the press, and Crandall was so impressed with his work that he also asked Pratt to build a replica of Benjamin Franklin’s press and the replica of the Gutenberg.
Crandall lives upstairs above the museum today, and there are hopes to add to the four existing printing press replicas (one of which is a slightly larger version of the press used to print the The Deseret News, the first newspaper in the West) a papermaking machine. The museum gives tours to UVU students in arts, history and journalism classes, but anyone interested in the history of the Book of Mormon, the history of the American Revolution or the history of modern technology couldn’t do better than spending an hour or two at this one-of-a-kind site — a precious piece of world history right in our own backyard.