But what were the tools of the trade like, you ask, before that familiar hum filled tattoo parlors the world over? Let’s go back to the Stone Age to find out.
Late Stone Age Tattooing
If these kits were in fact used in tattooing, we can trace its roots back to between 12,000 and 40,000 years ago. So the next time someone asks if you’ve thought about what your ink will look like when you’re old, take heart: People have probably been asking such stupid questions for millennia.
Tattooing Before (and After) Electricity
If you decide that hand-poked tattooing is for you, we urge you to seek out a professional who has been mentored in this particular art! And—please—resist at all costs the urge to do a so-called “DIY stick-and-poke tattoo.” Not only will you end up with a hideous tattoo, you’ll very likely contract a potentially deadly disease.
Edison Leaves His Mark on the Tattoo Industry
As O’Reilly was patenting his rotary tattoo machine in the United States, Thomas Riley was developing an electromagnetic tattoo machine in London, England. Riley’s machine involved a single electromagnetic coil and was later altered into a two-coil machine by Alfred Charles South. Although O’Reilly is considered by many to be the inventor of the first tattoo machine, coil machines have primarily dominated modern tattoo parlors, with rotary-style machines making a comeback in recent decades.
Modern Tattoo Machine Developments
Additionally, the stainless steel grips used to balance out the weight of iron machines are not disposable: They need to be processed thoroughly to be reused. “The processing put me at more exposure to BBP and noxious chemicals than I liked,” Mikey says of steel grips. “Switching to disposable plastic tubes just made sense.”