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Sunday, January 31, 1999 Published at 10:58 GMT


Gutenberg voted Millennium's best inventor

Johannes Gutenberg: Surprise choice for Web users?

Put together the printed word and electricity and what do you get? The written word on a computer.

So perhaps it is not so suprising that BBC News Online users voted for a 15th century German printer, ahead of electrical genius Thomas Edison and world famous genius Leonardo da Vinci.

Johannes Gutenberg pioneered techniques of metalwork, such as casting, punch-cutting, and stamping, for the mass production of books in the 15th century. At the time, European books were written by hand.

[ image:  ]
To reproduce this "look," Gutenberg invented a font with more than 300 characters and perfected the blend of lead, antimony, and tin used by type foundries up to the 20th century.

Next month you can vote for your favourite writer of the last thousand years. For inspiration, read the top-10 list suggested by writers JG Ballard and Malcolm Bradbury by clicking on the "Millennium" box above.

Some of you voted for Gutenberg because he empowered people of the world - literally by spreading the word.

"Without the written word being available to all, the world would have stayed in the hands of a small few," said one voter, P Alderson.

Another, Becky Lindford-Jones, commented: "[He] enabled the spread of ideas and dissemination of information to be much easier and available to a wider audience."

You found Thomas Alva Edison almost as impressive. "He brought the world from darkness into the light with his many inventions. He sparked further development of technology by his uninhibited drive to create," wrote David T Kimker.

'A fellow dyslexic'

Leonardo da Vinci was voted the Millennium's third greatest inventor.

"A thinker and theorist and also a fellow dyslexic" said Andy Bowman. Da Vinci was described as "centuries ahead of his time in his thinking" by Andrew Turner.

Michael Faraday, acknowledged as the father of electrical engineering, came fifth. "He turned electricity from a curiosity to a basic resource. The modern world entirely relies on his works," said Jalea Clements.

Contraceptive value

Because of the electrical connection, Faraday is sometimes confused with Edison as the inventor of the light bulb. Still, one Faraday voter had an interesting insight into the effects of electric light on population control.

"Light bulbs allow us to see in places we weren't able to see before," said Michael Williams. "Gandhi said that the greatest contraception for India was the electrification of the villages."

The vote attracted some other interesting, though unconventional, suggestions. Two people voted for their own mother, presumably for creating themselves.

Another put forward Yogi Baird - a hybrid of the cartoon character Yogi Bear and John Logie Baird, the inventor of the TV, perhaps.

Other weird and wonderful propositions included:

  • Whoever invented reading glasses
  • Whoever invented remote control
  • The inventor of football
  • The one who invented the WC
  • That fellow who invented the wheel

Although we don't know who that fellow was. We had to count him out for inventing it long before 1000 AD.

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