Founder of Project Gutenberg dies at age 64

Michael Stern Hart, credited with creating the most ambitious online book initiative to date, has passed away after leaving an inimitable mark on the digital landscape.

Gutenberg was thinking about e-books long before Amazon even started thinking about the Kindle – long before, even, anyone started thinking about a company like Amazon.

It was July 4, 1971 when Hart had a stroke of inspiration, deciding that he should print up the Declaration of Independence online and disseminate it so that it would be easily accessible by everyone.

Hart was one of the lucky few who actually had access to a computer in the early 70s, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Some 40 years later, there are now millions of publications available in online or digital form. Hart didn’t just create the idea and let someone else run away with it, though. It was his efforts that made the process work.

He created Project Gutenberg, which is described as a way to “encourage the creation and distribution of ebooks.” Today, there are more than 36,000 items in the Project Gutenberg collection, most of which come from the public domain.

They’re free for anyone to download and read, and many of today’s e-readers give users easy access to titles in the collection. They’re available in almost every digital book format, including HTML, PDF, EPUB, MOBI, and Plucker.

Although his name was never known by the majority of e-book readers, his legacy will surely live on. He is survived by his mother, Alice and brother, Bennett.