Johannes Gutenberg is generally accepted as the inventor of printing with movable types during the 15th century. In 1999 he was voted to be the "Man of the Millennium" by a poll of 100 leading politicians, artists, and scientists conducted by The Sunday Times.
Beginning of the Book of Genesis in the 42-line Gutenberg bible (fol. 5r of vol. 1 in the illuminated copy of the Staatsbibliothek Berlin).
He was the son of Friele Gensfleisch, a member of a wealthy and influential patrician family of Mainz, and Else Wirich, the daughter of a shopkeeper in Mainz. His birthdate is not known but based on available documents must have been between 1394 and 1404. The generally accepted birth year of about 1400 was rather arbitrarily decided upon by the Gutenberg Society in the late 19th century in order to celebrate his 500th birthday in 1900. Nothing much is known about his early years but there is reason to believe that he received an education commensurate to the social status of his family, including most likely university study. In the university of Erfurt's student registry for the year 1419/20 is an entry for a Johannes de Alta villa, Eltville being a town across the Rhein river where his family had a home where they had been living on and off during political turmoil in Mainz. The university of Erfurt was the alma mater for the archbishopric of Mainz and one year prior two of his cousins started studies there. However, there is no conclusive evidence that this student was indeed him. From 1434 through 1444 Gutenberg can be found living in Straßburg, with 25,000 inhabitants one of the biggest cities in the empire at that time. It is here where he presumably started developing his printing methods which he completed in the 1450's back in Mainz. His print shop was financed with loans and shortly before completion of his bibles his creditor sued Gutenberg claiming that Gutenberg had misappropriated the money which was to be used for the printing of the bibles for other projects. Gutenberg lost and the print shop including the as yet unfinished bibles which he had put up as collateral for the loan went to his creditor. In 1462 Adolf von Nassau, the archbishop of Mainz, occupied the until then Free City of Mainz because the city had sided with his rival for the throne Diether von Isenburg-Büdingen. 800 citizens, among them Johannes Gutenberg, were exiled from the city. He lost his house zum Gutenberg where he had started another print shop and moved again to Eltville. However, already in 1465 he was made a courtier by Adolf von Nassau and endowed with considerable material perks (clothes, grain, and wine) in recognition of his achievements. These goods were delivered to him in Mainz, suggesting that he already had lived there again. The picture painted of a poor and broken man, deprived of his accomplishments, mostly in the 19th century literature but also by some authors in recent years, seems to be untenable in light of these well documented facts. His death date is derived from an anonymous imprint in a book printed in Mainz: "Anno Domini 1468 uf Sankt-Blasius-Tag starb der ehrsam Meister Henne Gensfleisch, dem Gott gnade."
↑ see for instance: Reading Eagle (Apr. 12, 1965) "Constance Missal - World's Oldest" Page 15: "He was always in trouble over debts, was later sued and lost all his work tools. In his final years he worked at a minor job for the Archbishop of Mainz. He died a broken-hearted man in 1468"
In 1400 (which is the preferred estimated birth date for him) Mainz was Freie Stadt Mainz, Heiliges Römisches Reich, only in 1462 did it become the residence of the Erzstift Mainz, the official name for the worldly possessions of the archbishopric and electorate of Mainz.
About the picture: There are no pictures representing his true likenness known. All pictures purporting to be of him are really just the results of the imagination of the painter or sculptor. As a curator of the Gutenberg museum in Mainz recently told us, after all he ended his life as a courtier, and at that time those were the people who could afford and did use the services of barbers and were generally the only clean shaven people in town.
1. Parents: Friedrich (usually called Friele) Gensfleisch, died 1419 in Mainz, and his second wife Else Wirich, died 1433.
2. Name: LNAB should be only Gensfleisch, may be even his CLN, his death date is only known from an anonymous imprint: "Anno Domini 1468 uf Sankt-Blasius-Tag starb der ehrsam Meister Henne Gensfleisch, dem Gott gnade." So even the notice of his death only calls him Gensfleisch. May be "Gensfleisch zur Laden genannt Gutenberg" should be his OLN.
3. He had a brother named Friele who died in 1447 and a sister named Else who died about 1443 and was married to Claus Vitztum (died about 1449). They had a daughter Else Vitztum who died in 1475 and was married to Henne Humbrecht who died in 1477 in Frankfurt.