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


The development of textbooks as a whole can be traced to the first printers and the first great teachers who recorded their message by quill and ink.

The argument can be made that the first textbook may date back to prehistoric times, with the discovery of a series of pictures carved into stonewalls. Many historians have pieced together mini textbooks or lessons based on these series of pictures.

To say there were not textbooks before the modern printing press would be inaccurate. The great thinkers such as Plato, Sun Tzu, Confucius and Leonardo da Vinci put their lessons to paper far before the press.

The question is when was the first printed and standardized textbook written?

The definitive leap for the textbook came when the printing press was developed. While many people believe the first movable text printing press was invented by Gutenberg, in reality it was the Chinese.

In the 9th century the Chinese created movable wooden blocks in order to reprint Buddhists writings. The Chinese did the printing manually character by character. It was not until the 11th century that the Chinese developed a printing press. The oldest book on record is the Buddhist Diamond Sutra, which was printed using Chinese printing technology in 868 A.D.

Gutenberg invented the first historically recognized printing press in 1450. It was not until 1454 that Guttenberg printed one hundred and eighty copies of the famous forty two-line bible. Within the same year Gutenberg also printed a Turkish calendar.

Unfortunately as with many great inventors within the next year Gutenberg had a disagreement with his partners Peter Schoffre and Johann Fust. The result was a lawsuit with the partners which left Gutenberg not only without a printing press but also penniless.

The next time you pay over one hundred dollars for a textbook remember that the person who started it all wound up with nothing!.