Way back before the days of cable television and hit TV shows about popular tattoo artists and tattoo parlors, the tattoo machine started out as an entirely different creation in a well known Newark, New Jersey shop. Not only was this the birthplace of the light-bulb, but it was also Thomas Alva Edison’s place for creating the original tattoo machine. At that time. its purpose was to be an engraving machine. When it was patented in 1876, Mr. Edison would not have known that place in history that his creation would hold.
His original rotary design would be adapted and modified by a gentleman named Samuel O’Reilly, to be made into the first mechanical tattoo machine. Crude methods at the time relied either on handheld needles or fragments of sharpened bone. O’Reilly took Edison’s engraving pen and made changes to permission to introduce ink into the skin. He patented the design with a hollow tube and needles in 1891, which provided the machine with a reservoir to hold ink. This was quite a good start for the earliest machines but they weren’t quite as reliable as today’s. Over time, more innovations would come along to refine the tattoo machine.
An Englishman named Thomas Riley later adapted a single coiled electromagnetic design. This would be one of the greatest leaps into the modern machine found in today’s shops. Improving on the design with a double coil configuration, Alfred Charles South, another London citizen, brought the design closer to its modern form. From that point on, incremental refinements would increase the precision and efficiency of the machine. Current machines are capable of allowing tattooists the ability to make adjustments to speed, application force, and needle depth. It is due to these modern touches that tattooing is so popular and easily accessible.
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