The Historical Text Archive: Electronic History Resources, online since 1990 Bringing you digitized history, primary and secondary sources


English Books

The earliest printed book on record was printed by the Chinese in 868. The book called the Diamond Sutra is the earliest documented - however there is debate about whether many books were printed prior to this time.

The most revolutionary invention to propel the printed word, particularly the English printed word, was the Gutenberg printing press. In 1436 Johannes Guttenberg began the development of his first printing press. Although there were technical and financial difficulties, Gutenberg completed the press in 1440.

The Gutenberg printing press was revolutionary because it had movable metal type and the cost per copy was reduced to a level never seen before. This low cost allowed the mass public access to printed material on a large scale for the first time.

Guetenberg’s first two mass-printed books were the Gutenberg Bible and a Persian calendar.

Once the press was invented, the availablilty of books printed in English and textbooks teaching English as a primary language grew rapidly.

Although English was not made the legal primary language in early Europe, we do know that in approximately 1250 the first English textbook was printed in France. This textbook was used to teach the upper class children English. An interesting and ironic fact is that at approximately the same time an initiative was taking place in England to teach the upper class children French.

Both of these events revolved around the invention of the printing press.

As the fourteenth century passed, the royalty in England wanted to convert all of their subjects to speaking and writing English.

In early 1400 Henry IV became the first English monarch to speak English only. This was a major shift from the previous focus on French as the upper class language.

As the fourteenth century continued, the shift to English continued and would continue until today.

English is the most frequently spoken language in the world. All students in the United States are required to learn English as at least their secondary language.