(source, click on the image if the animation doesn’t start)
It’s easy to forget in our internet-age when printing may be on its way out, but Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the movable type printing press in the middle of the 15th century started a revolution in freedom of speech. Access to and dissemination of information was no longer the privilege of an elite.
From a single point of origin in Mainz in Germany, printing spread within several decades to hundreds of cities in many European countries. By 1500, printing presses in operation throughout Western Europe had already produced more than twenty million volumes. In the 16th century, with presses spreading further afield, their output rose tenfold to an estimated 150 to 200 million copies. It’s impossible to tell how many copies there are in the world today – some say more than 3 billion. According to Google Books, more than 130.000.000 books have been published.
The printing revolution not only promoted freedom of speech but also boosted the democratization of knowledge, undermined the power of political and religious authorities, improved education, and laid the material basis for the modern knowledge-based economy and for rapid improvements in prosperity. The latter effect was already evident at the start of the printing revolution:
economic growth was higher by as much as 60 percentage points in cities that adopted the technology. (source)
A similar map that looks at the spread of printing across Europe in the 1400s (the animation below shows the number and location of printed works by year):
More human rights maps here.