A Glimpse Into the History of Tattoo

All around the world, people have been inking their bodies for thousands of years as an artistic expression. Cultural significance was created then as various groups independently developed their styles and procedures.

This article will enlighten you on the intricate origins of tattoos and how these art forms have evolved in response to influences from religion, culture, and technology.

Evolution of Tattoo Machine Technology

You must first understand the origins of tattooing before delving into its cultural significance and historical development. It is important to understand the foundational technologies that allow modern tattooing, even if numerous examples of ancient civilizations engaged in tattooing.

There are foundational figures you should know that contribute to the development of tattoo machine technology.

Samuel O’Reilly

Samuel O’Reilly, a tattoo artist from New York, patented tattoo machines in 1891. The first electric tattoo machine was created using the principles laid out in the patent, which paved the way for current tattoos. Some have even blamed Thomas Edison because the patent is similar to one he filed in 1876 for an engraving pen.

O’Reilly’s initial tattoo machine used a high-speed, reciprocating DC motor system to move the needle faster and more comfortably, making it an instant hit and spreading tattooing even faster.

Percy Waters

Percy Waters plays another key role in the evolution of tattoo machines; his patented design aligns more with current models than O’Reilly’s original. Combining a spark shield with two electromagnetic coils and an on/off button allows for variable results depending on the depth of each stroke.

Throughout the 1930s, Waters’ tattoo parlor in Detroit benefited greatly from the machine.

Manfred Kohrs

The initial electric-motor-and-ink-reservoir rotary machine was created by Manfred Kohrs in 1978.

Franco Vescovi

In 2009, Franco Vescovi made more updates to Kohrs’s design. As a result, the machine became more comfortable to wield, allowing tattoo artists to work on larger designs in a single session.

As time passed, technology has also improved other parts of getting a tattoo. For instance, due to touchscreen phones and tablets, artists may use iPads and other devices to sketch their ideas and create more detailed tattoos.

First Tattoo Performed

Getting a tattoo predates the invention of the tattoo machine by several centuries. Since tattoos have been around for a long time, no one bothered to record the first one when it happened.

The most notable example of prehistoric tattooing documented so far is on Ötzi the Iceman. You may be familiar with this ice-covered mummy; they are a priceless artifact for historians, and, you got it, they had tattoos.

Ötzi may have been the first to acquire a tattoo, but he wasn’t the first to wear a specific design. Indeed, Ötzi is outdone by Japanese sculptures that, according to estimates, date back around 10,000 years and depict people with visible tattoos.

Among other ancient tattoos, animal-themed designs have been found on Siberian skeletons dating back 2,500 years. Tattoos were also common on North American bodies 1,500 years ago. Traditional indigenous tattooing was often associated with religious practices. It was later discovered that mummies from Egypt and South America bore this ancient art.

The earliest known examples from Egypt date back 5,000 years, from 3370 BC to 3100 BC, although those from South America are considered 3,000 years old. Additionally, tattoos from the Inuit and Thai cultures have been found.

While archaeologists are always looking for artifacts that could reveal the origins of ancient tattoos, searching for preserved human remains is an ongoing quest. Tattoos depicting local animals or fertility symbols applied to women’s buttocks and thighs resemble skin art from a cave.

Traditional Practices of Tattoos in Different Regions

As time passed, tattoos were associated with bad reputations for many of the twentieth century. But why is that when tattoos are ancient art? Several regions have unique histories and functions of classic tattooing techniques.

Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptian mummies bearing tattoos have been unearthed. The fact that ancient Egyptian tattooing was supposedly reserved for women is supported by the discovery of female mummies dating back to 2000 BC. Mummified women are far more likely to have tattoos than mummified males.

China and Asia

A person with tattoos is stereotyped as a criminal or a barbarian in China and throughout Asia. In 20th-century China and Asia, tattoos were common among gang members, yet attitudes are beginning to shift.

Ancient Greek and Ancient Rome

Tattoos were a common way for lawbreakers to identify themselves in classical times. Enslaved people often had tattoos to identify who they belonged to in the slave trade. As a punishment, the ancient Greeks would strip unsavory individuals of their anonymity by marking them permanently on their bodies, such as with tattoos.


Samoa, like the other Polynesian islands, has a fascinating tattoo history. The Samoan people have a long-standing tradition of getting tattoos, which is referred to as “tatau” in their language (from whence we derive the English word “tattoo”). The tattooing is typically done by hand using various natural materials such as turtle shells, boar teeth, etc.

As an additional eco-friendly measure, they swam in salt water to remove the ink off their skin afterward.

Factors that Made Tattoos Popular Today

Conventional wisdom held that tattoos and their wearers were social outcasts, but the media helped debunk that myth. Tattoos gained popularity gradually throughout the 20th century, influenced by several historical events. However, in the 21st century, tattoos have become mainstream due to several circumstances.

TV Shows

Shows aired on television delved into tattoo culture, reaching millions of viewers globally. These programs made tattoo artists more well-known and showed that tattooees are just regular individuals.

Internet and Social Media

It certainly didn’t take only a few TV series to turn the public’s view of tattoos and their artists around. The Internet played an unprecedented role in disseminating tattoo culture, as with any phenomenon that thrived in the 21st century.

After the advent of social media, tattoo artists of different skill levels could connect and share ideas on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Artists from many walks of life and cultures gained international fame and fan bases through the Internet. Anyone may follow their favorite artists and view all their releases with the simple click of a button.

Appreciate the Art of Tattooing

Tattoos have a long and storied history that will continue for generations. In addition to their purely aesthetic value, tattoos have a long history of functional and expressive uses. And this fact even invites more people to get inked and express themselves in a more creative approach.