Although Johannes Gutenberg is famous for inventing the printing press in 1439, it turns out that there were printed books in China and Korea hundreds of years earlier. Movable type was actually invented by a man named Bi Sheng between 1041 and 1048.
From an article at io9 by Annalee Newitz:
“It’s probably best to think of Gutenberg’s printing press in relation to previous ones the same way we think of the desktop PC in relation to mainframes. He managed to change the world with an already-existing technology by turning it into something that anybody could buy and use.
As many bitter scientists have learned, history often credits innovations to the people who made them popular, rather than the people who actually dreamed them up. Gutenberg was no exception. He changed the world by manufacturing printing presses, not by inventing them.”
Sometimes an invention is just “in the air”, you know? Advances in technology have brought things to a point where all the pieces exist to make a major leap forward, and all it takes is for a bright and innovative thinker to have the insight to put those pieces together. Often, several people will “invent” the same or similar things around the same time.
I have personal experience with this. I’m credited with creating the first online forum or message board software in 1973, which in turn sparked the first online community. Actually, Murray Turoff had created a computer-based group communication system called EMISARI at the New Jersey Institute of Technology a couple of years earlier. It was designed as a crisis management tool and was used for a few months in 1971 during the Federal wage and price freeze. The PLATO Notes software I created a in 1973 was a more general purpose forum system, built on a much more accessible platform, and it did lay the foundation for the first instance of what we would recognize as an online community. But also in 1973, a group at the Institute of the Future independently developed a group messaging system called PLANET, and in 1975 Robert Parnes developed another at the University of Michigan called Confer. As far as I know, none of these people were aware of each other’s work. Using computers for group communication was an inevitable outgrowth of the development of time-sharing operating systems, which let multiple people use a computer simultaneously. That wasn’t immediately obvious at the time, but once the tools were there, a number of people independently saw the possibility and acted on it. I just happened to be one of them.