Tattoos, either love them or hate them, have been a part of humanity since the stone age. Since then, tattoo technology and artistry has evolved significantly, as you’ll learn with these 10 fascinating tattoo facts!
1. The first ever tattoo machine was patented in 1891 by Samuel F. O’Reilley. It was actually a modification of an electric pen patented by Thomas Edison and the design hasn’t changed much since. a
Image credit: Tattoo archive
2. The giant department store Macy’s is more commonly known for its niche in popular culture and the diversity of its merchandise. Few realise that the star from their logo was actually taken from a tattoo that founder R.H. Macy wore on his forearm which he acquired on a whaling vessel during his youth!
3. Tattoo artist Vinnie Myers inks 3d nipple tattoos for breast cancer survivors at his tattoo parlour in the US city if Baltimore. More commonly known as the “Michelangelo of Nipple Tattoos”, Vinnie’s talent attracts thousands of women from all over the US and further afield, as far as Saudi Arabia!
Image credit: Vinnie Myers via the Vice
4. Tattoo methods from ancient Greece and Egypt to Pacific Island cultures included using chisels, rakes, or picks. Soot-covered thread was also used where the thread would be sewn through the skin! Ouch! b
5. Some cultures use urine mixed with coal dust to make dye for their tattoos. Makes you wonder how someone would think of this mixture in the first place? a
6. The word “tattoo” derives from the Polynesian word “ta” (“to strike”), which describes the sound of a tattooing spike being knocked on skin. The first written references to the word “tattoo” appear on the papers of Joseph Banks (1743-1820), a naturalist aboard Captain Cook’s ship. The word “tattoo” was brought to Europe by the explorer James Cook in 1769 from his first voyage to Tahiti and New Zealand. He refers to an operation called “tattaw”. Before this it had been described as scarring, painting, staining, prics or marks. a
7. During a tattoo session, the skin is pierced between 50 and 3,000 times a minute by a tattoo machine. Watch tattoo machine in slow motion below.
8. UV tattoos are created with a special ink that is only visible under UV light and invisible in normal daylight. However, subtle scarring caused by the tattoo machine will still be visible in normal daylight. c
9. The most tattooed man in the world is Gregory Paul McLaren (1971), also known as Lucky Diamond Rich. Not only is he is 100% tattooed, including the inside of his foreskin, mouth, inside his eyelids and ears, but he has also had multiple layers added. Check out the top 10 most tattooed men in the world here.
10. The oldest physical body in existence, Otzi the Iceman (3300-3200 B.C.) has the oldest tattoos that have ever been preserved. Research has found that he had 61 tattoos including, a black cross tattooed on the inside of his left knee, six straight lines on his lower back, and parallel lines on his ankles, leg, and wrists. When scientists X-rayed his body, they discovered joint disease under each tattoo, which suggests the tattoos were meant to relieve pain.
Image credit: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology
Know an interesting fact about tattoos? Feel free to share your knowledge in the comments section below.
a. Goodman, Susan E. 2006. Gee Whiz: It’s All about Pee. New York, NY: Penguin Group.
b. Levin, Judith. 2008. Tattoos and Indigenous Peoples. New York, NY: Rosen Publishing Group
c. Bailey, Diane. 2012. Tattoo Art around the World. New York, NY: Rosen Publishing Group.