Tattoo Trivia & History

Tattoo History, from Inka Tattoos in Derby

The basic tattoo machine was invented by Thomas Edison 1876. It was originally designed to be used as an engraving devise, but in 1891, Samuel O'Reilly discovered that Edison's machine could be modified and used to create tattoos.

The technology now used to make today's tattoo machines has come a long way. While O'Reilly's machine was based on the rotary technology of Edison's engraving device, modern machines now use electromagnets. The first machine to use this technology was a single coil machine patented by Thomas Riley of London. For this machine, Riley modified door bell assembly in a brass box. The modern two coil configuration was patented by Alfred Charles South, also of London. Because it was so heavy the machine was often hung from the ceiling by a spring to take most of the weight off the operator's hand.

Modern day tattoo machines can now control needle depth, force and speed, which have advanced tattooing to a precise art.

Tattooing has been a practice at least since Neolithic times. Mummies bearing tattoos and dating from the end of the second millennium BC were discovered at Pazyryk on the Ukok Plateau. Tattooing in Japan is thought to go back at least ten thousand years, while other cultures have had their own tattoo traditions, ranging from rubbing wounds and cuts with ashes, to hand pricking the skin to absorb dyes.

The first known usage of the word tattoo in the English language was recorded in the diary of Captain James Cook in 1769 during his voyage to the Marquesas Islands. The text reads: "... they print signs on people's body and call this tattaw", referring to Polynesian customs. Sailors on their return introduced the word and the concept of tattooing to Europe.

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