One doesn't have to press Louis Crandall much to find what he thinks is the world's greatest invention.

He hand set type for a Strauchs Print Shop in Mesa, Ariz., at age 14.He worked his way through college managing a letterpress print shop at the Tempe Daily News.

His heroes are Johann Gutenberg and Benjamin Franklin and Ottmar Mergenthaler, all printers by trade.

Next to his wife Mabel, who died of breast cancer this past June, the first antique printing press he bought is his most prized possession.

It's no surprise that he calls the printing press "the greatest single invention in the history of the world."

"The world really doesn't realize or understand what the printed word has done for mankind," Crandall said.

To help people appreciate the printing press, the Provo man turned his passion into the Crandall Historical Printing Museum in a red brick colonial-style building at 275 E. Center St.

The exhibit in what used to be Crandall's advertising agency office opened Wednesday.

"This is going to be more than a static display. It's going to be a living part of history. It brings to life our history," said Mark Barbour, president of the International Printing Museum in Buena Park, Calif. Barbour was in Provo for the museum's opening.

The museum highlights significant developments in printing since Gutenberg invented movable type in Mainz, Germany in 1450. It features a working replica of Gutenberg's original press, which Crandall said is the only one in the United States.

A reproduction of the first Bible ever printed is on display as is an actual page from a Gutenberg Bible printed 536 years ago. The ink on the page is as black as the day it was printed.

"The incredible part about all this is that it's still the standard by which we judge printing," said Thom Hinckley, a retired Brigham Young University professor and the museum's technical director.

In the 50 years prior to Gutenberg's invention, scribes in Europe penned about 20,000 books.

Only the wealthy and powerful few possessed books, leaving everyone else "ignorant peasants," Barbour said.

In the 50 years after Gutenberg's press came into being, the number of books swelled to 12 million.

"What do think became of all you ignorant peasants?" he queried. "You became smart peasants."

A reproduction of Benjamin Franklin's print shop in Philadelphia includes a working model of his English Common press. Franklin used the press to crank out copies of "Poor Richard's Almanac" and Thomas Paine's "Common Sense."

Another room in Crandall's museum features the E.B. Grandin Print Shop where the first 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon were printed for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Palmyra, N.Y., in 1830. There also is a section devoted to the Deseret News, which began publishing in Salt Lake City in 1850.

Printing is a trade that gets into people's blood not just on their hands.

Larry Erickson recalls being fascinated as a youngster by the press in the window of the Lehi Free Press newspaper office. His career in the business began as an apprentice or "printer's devil" at the paper.

"I was always good at spelling so I was a natural at it," he said while operating a Mergenthaler Linotype machine in Crandall's museum. "I started running one of these 52 years ago when I was 12."

The world revolves around printing, and people could not enjoy freedom without it, Barbour said.

"Imagine just one day without printing. You wouldn't have a cereal box to read in the morning. You wouldn't have a newspaper," he said.

Hinckley noted that people today are enamored with computers. "But keep in mind computers are not the best investment in America. The best investment in America is paper."

Regardless of the latest technology, Barbour said the world owes Gutenberg, whom one prominent magazine called the "man of the millennium," gratitude for bringing civilization out of the Dark Ages.

"We're still experiencing Gutenberg's revolution," he said. "It's just in a different form now."

The Crandall Historical Printing Museum is open Mondays through Saturdays from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is free.