History of the Tattoo Machine

By | February 9, 2014

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Tattoos have been around for many, many years; today they are received by anybody who wants to get inked and in any spot but they were once not regarded in such a positive manner. Tattoos used to be only given to people who were “living life on the edge,” people in the military, and people of poor reputation such as criminals. Of course, the viewpoint of tattoos that stated that tattoos were for soldiers and low-lifes was at the time when tattoos were new and thus, soon after the tattoo machine was invented.

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In the late 1800s (1891), the tattoo machine was invented by Samuel O’Reilly, actually, O’Reilly modified an invention from Thomas Edison to create the tattoo machine. See, what happened was that Thomas Edison invented the “Stencil-Pens” in 1876 as a way to duplicate things and engrave hard surfaces; but Samuel O’Reilly decided that with a few quick modifications, he could use the machine to inject ink into the skin. After O’Reilly modified the tube system and the electromagnetic oscillating piece to enable the machine to drive the needle as desired, he had them patented.

 

A few weeks after O’Reilly had the rotary machine patented, Thomas Riley, from London, modified the machine to use electromagnets, making the machine more like what it is today. Riley created a machine that used a single coil machine via a doorbell in a brass box. However, the modern machines use a dual-coil format, which was patented by Alfred Charles South, also from London.

 

Over the years, various changes have been made to the tattoo  machine to make it more user-friendly and precise. Nowadays, tattoo guns can be controlled in terms of speed, depth of the needle, and force of application so tattoos have gone from a marking to an art form. The depth of the needle is very important because having a needle that goes too deep can cause a lot of pain and bleeding while one that is too shallow can create uneven lines in the tattoo and the ink will fade faster, if exposed to sun. The modern day tattoo gun resembles a dentist drill and injects into the skin anywhere from 50-3,000 times every minute.

 

Tattoo artists inject ink into the skin into the dermis, the second layer of skin, instead of the epidermis, the top layer of skin. The reason for injecting into the dermis is because skin cells on that layer of skin are more stable and thus, less likely to let ink run and not settle properly. So when you see a tattoo, you actually see what is the dermis, cool huh? 

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