A Brief History Of Tattoos

Tyler Martina

A Brief History Of Tattoos How Tattoos Got Started

A Brief History Of Tattoos

Tattoos have been a part of human culture for thousands of years, with evidence of the practice dating back to ancient civilizations. From the mummified remains of the "Iceman" in Italy, to the intricate tattoos found on the ancient Egyptians and Nubians, tattoos have been a part of history since we have been recording history.

Yet there is still a large air of mystery when it comes to tattoos. Even with the rise in popularity people still wonder, where tattoos came from, how they spread across the globe, and what the future of tattoos could be.

That is why we put together this article, to help enlighten you about the past of tattoos, let you know how it has evolved, and let you know what we think the future may hold…

How and When Did People Start Getting Tattoos?

Iceman's New Tattoos History Of Tattoos

Photo of some of the "Iceman's" recently discovered tattoos. read more here


Although the exact date of the “very first tattoo” is unknown, there is evidence of people getting tattoos that date back thousands of years. The mummified remains of a man known as the "Iceman," in Italy was found dated to about 3000 BCE, and he had not only one, but nearly 50 tattoos. 

Tattoos were also popular in ancient Egypt, where mummies can be found adorned by tattoos. This is also significant because it shows that tattoos were popular in even the highest classes of ancient societies. Tattoos were also found on ancient Greeks, Romans, and indigenous people from around the world. 

The practice of tattooing has been used for a variety of purposes in different cultures, including as a form of ritual and spiritual expression, as a mark of social status or rank, and even for medical and therapeutic reasons.

How Did Tattoos Get Started In America?

Tattoos On American Sailors 1700s History Of Tattoos

Illustration of 1700's Sailor with tattoos


Fast forward a few thousand years to the late 1700s in colonial America, when sailors first brought the practice of tattooing to the United States.Theses first “American” tattoos served as a form of identification for the sailors, as well as a way to commemorate their experiences and achievements at sea. 

Over the next couple hundred years tattoos stayed out of the “mainstream” and went largely unnoticed by the majority of the American public, with the majority of Americans that had tattoos still being sailors and military men.

Then in the late 1800’s something happened that would revolutionize tattooing forever…

The First Tattoo Machine Is Invented

Original Tattoo ?Machine 1800s History Of Tattoos

Patent drawing for Samuel O'Reilly's first electric tattoo machine


Samuel O'Reilly, a New York based tattoo artist invented the first tattoo machine as we know it today in 1891. He modified the design of the autographic printer, an early printing press, to create the first electric tattoo machine. 

The electric tattoo machine revolutionized the tattoo industry by making the process of tattooing faster, easier, and less painful. It allowed tattoo artists to create more intricate designs and thus attracting more talented artists to the medium.  This led to a surge in new tattoo artists, and a surge in clients. Meaning more and more Americans were walking around with tattoos.

Since then, the design of the tattoo machine and its features have been improved and refined, but the basic principle of the tattoo machine has remained the same.

A fun fact is that O'Reilly's tattoo machine design was based on the work of Thomas Edison, who had developed an electric pen for printing patterns on paper. So the next time you think of Edison, don’t think of a lightbulb, think of a tattoo machine.


Tattoos In The 1900s 

Tattoos in America Early 1900s History of Tattoos

Photo of a woman getting a tattoo in early 1900s


Even with more and more people getting tattoos, and there being more tattoo artists, tattoos were not widely accepted in American society until the latter half of the 20th century. 

Prior to this time, tattoos were associated with the criminal underworld and were seen as a negative and unprofessional form of self-expression. Most people had to hide their tattoos, and if you wanted to have a lot of visible tattoos your job prospects were a circus performer, a freak show exhibition, or a criminal. 

Thankfully things began to change in the 1960s and 1970s.  Tattoos started to lose their criminal stigma, and started to be seen as a form of art and self-expression. At this time tattoos gained popularity among young people, and spread across America with the music of countercultural movements.

Tattoos Now

Tattoos In Present Day History Of Tattoos

Photo showing how common tattoos are now


We are currently living in what we like to call the “21st Century Renaissance”, and instead of people commissioning paintings, people are commissioning tattoos. Some of the world's greatest artists are tattooers, and some of the most amazing art is being done on skin. 

Tattoos are more popular than ever, in the United States, it is estimated that over 40% of adults have at least one tattoo. This number is even higher among young adults, with many surveys reporting that over 50% of people in their 20s and 30s have tattoos, and much higher than that in places like Southern California. 

Tattoos have finally entered the mainstream, with many celebrities and public figures sporting tattoos. The rise of social media has also helped to spread awareness of tattoos as an art form, and gives talented tattoo artists around the world a way to showcase their work. All in all, it’s a great time for tattoos.

The Future Of Tattoos

Future oF Tattoos History Of Tattoos

Man covered in patchwork style tattoos. to see more patchwork style tattoos click here

While robots won’t be giving you a tattoo anytime soon, there are some really cool advancements in tattooing that are just on the horizon like..

Hunger Games style tattoos: In the world of the Hunger Games people have their whole bodies tattooed like animals, some with prints like cheetahs, some with scales like lizards. That point is that tattoos like this are possible now, and many more people may be getting full body tattoos like this in the future.

Color changing ink: That’s right, imagine getting a tattoo and being able to change the color of the ink at will. Not only that, but you would theoretically be able to change the color of each individual grain of ink, meaning you could change it to any design at will. This technology is already being used in space on solar sails, once we adapt it to be safe for humans, you will have unlimited options when it comes to your tattoo. Want to hide your tattoo? Just change the color of the ink to match your skin tone.

Painless tattoos: Imagine tattoos that don’t hurt at all. They are currently developing topical solutions that will make current numbing cream seem barbaric. 

Plus, much more…

Tattoos have come a long way from their origins, and in the future we expect this evolution to continue. With new technology, new artists, and new ideas, the possibilities are endless for the art form and we are excited to see what comes next.

See you soon!


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