Backstory aside, it’s clear that inventors like Bonwill, Green, and Edison -who made the extraordinary, inventive leap of converting an electromagnetic coil mechanism into a practical handheld instrument -greatly influenced the growth of Tattoo Equipment. Unnamed others unquestionably played a role as well. Within the 1870s, electric handheld implements were, since yet, novelties. When tradesman and practitioners began by using these tools in a professional capacity, they encountered limitations. Efforts to eliminate shortcomings led to further discovery and innovation. When tattoo artists began modifying a similar electric devices for his or her own purposes, it could have produced a new wave of findings.
At this point, the complete variety of machines open to early tattooers isn’t known. But dental pluggers and Edison’s rotary pen (the only known Edison pen manufactured) were conceivably towards the top of the list. Within an 1898 Ny Sun interview, O’Reilly said he experimented with both before settling on his patent design. With his dental plugger machine, he claimed, he could tattoo a person around in just six weeks. But there was room for improvement. Discussing the trial-and-error process, he said he first tried the dental plugger, then an Edison pen, but each was “too weak;” finally, after many trials, he “made a model after his own idea, had it patented, and got a qualified mechanic to develop the machine.”
O’Reilly’s patent machine, essentially an Edison pen, was modified by adding an ink reservoir, accommodations for longer than one needle, as well as a specialized tube assembly system meant to solve the “weakness” issue of his previous machines. Much like the original Edison pen, the reciprocating action of O’Reilly’s machine, was actuated by using an eccentric (cam) working on top of the needle bar. But instead of a straight stylus, the tube encasing the needle bar (also the handle) was developed with two 90 degree angles, even though the needle bar inside was segmented with pivots. This create allowed to get a lever and fulcrum system that further acted about the lower end of your needle bar and theoretically served to lengthen the stroke/throw of the needle.
As it appears, the patent office didn’t consider O’Reilly’s “improvements” all of that innovative. They denied his application at the beginning. Not because his invention was too just like Edison’s 1876 rotary device, but since it bore likenesses to Augustus C. Carey’s 1884 autographic pen patent (US Patent 304,613). They denied it a 2nd time citing British patent UK 3332 (William Henry Abbott’s sewing machine patent), perhaps owed to the reciprocating needle assembly. Rejection notes clarify that in exposure to great britain patent it will not have involved invention to add an ink reservoir to the Carey pen. (Carey’s patent already included specifications for a type of ink duct).
Due to the crossover in invention, O’Reilly was required to revise his claims repeatedly before his patent was granted. This actually happened frequently. Patent law permits inventions according to existing patents. But applicants must prove their creation is novel and distinct. This could be tricky and may also be one reason a lot of the early tattoo artists didn’t patent their ideas -though for many we understand several probably have tried and failed. (Unfortunately, all pre-1920s abandoned patent applications have already been destroyed).
Based on legend, twenty days after O’Reilly obtained his rotary patent within the U.S., England’s Tom Riley allegedly obtained a British patent to get a single-coil machine. However, while Riley may have invented such a device, he didn’t patent it. A British patent isn’t on file. More likely, the history is confused through the years. Pat Brooklyn -within his interview with Tom Riley entitled Pictures of the epidermis -discusses an individual-coil machine Riley was tattooing with in 1903, but doesn’t mention a patent for this particular machine at all. What he does inform is that this: “The electric-needle was created by Mr. Riley and his cousin, Mr. S.F. O’Riley [sic]…and was patented by them on December 8, 1891, even though it has since had several alterations and improvements created to it.”
Since we understand Riley wasn’t O’Reilly’s co-patentee, his claims in this interview were obviously embellished. As soon as the story was printed though, it absolutely was probably transferred and muddied with each re-telling. It very well might have inspired the comments in George Burchett’s Memoirs of a Tattooist; that Riley obtained a British patent on December 28, 1891, which improved on O’Reilly’s patent with the help of six needles. The 1st British tattoo machine patent was really issued to Sutherland MacDonald on December 29, 1894 (UK 3035) (note the similarity of your month and day using the alleged Riley patent). Sutherland’s machine was cylindrical shaped with the needles moving throughout the core from the electromagnetic coils inside, quite similarly to several of the cylindrical shaped dental pluggers and perforating pens of your era.
With the problems O’Reilly encountered with his patent, it’s possible he enlisted help. The patent process entails consulting trusted experts and O’Reilly himself acknowledged which a “skilled mechanic” built his patent model. This could have been the machinist, inventor, and mechanical illusionist from England, named John Feggetter Blake, or “Professor Feggetter” to dime museum audiences. After arriving inside the U.S. in 1872, Blake obtained numerous patents for his inventions, the 1st being a Three Headed Songstress illusion sponsored by Bunnell’s Dime Museum of New York. And, he was acquainted with O’Reilly.
National Archives and Records Administration; Washington, D.C.; Index to Petitions for Naturalizations Filed in Federal, State, and native Courts in The Big Apple, 1792-1906 (M1674); Microfilm Serial: M1674; Microfilm Roll: 14
NARA; Washington, D.C.; Index to Petitions for Naturalizations Filed in Federal, State, and native Courts in The Big Apple, 1792-1906. “40 South” was the place of Edwin Thomas’ tattoo shop before he was imprisoned for shooting his ex-girlfriend in 1890.
Not just did Blake’s patent lawyers (John Van Santvoord and William Hauff) submit O’Reilly’s initial patent claim in July of 1891, but in addition, in October, not a long time after his patent claims were first denied, O’Reilly signed as being a witness on Blake’s naturalization application.
Although we can’t be sure that Blake was working in the development of O’Reilly’s invention, it’s striking that a great many of his inventions operated via pivots, levers, and fulcrums, much like O’Reilly’s tube assembly. Also, from the years just following O’Reilly’s patent Blake began patenting a number of electromagnetic contact devices.
Contributing to intrigue, Blake was linked to John Williams, the dime show tattooer who claimed both he and O’Reilly discovered a “new method” of tattooing a few years earlier. The two had headlined together within both Boston and The Big Apple dime museums before Williams left for England.
Regardless of the link with these other men, O’Reilly supports the patent. Today, his invention is upheld as the ultimate tattoo machine of the day. Since the product of dedicated trials, O’Reilly’s patent machine significantly contributed to the advancement of tattoo machines. And, he certainly deserves the accolades for his efforts, specifically for being the first one to get yourself a patent. But there’s some question whether he ever manufactured his invention -over a massive anyway -or whether or not this was in wide spread use at any point.
In 1893, just a couple of years following the patent was in place, tattoo artist and vaudeville actor Arthur Birchman claimed he owned a couple of O’Reilly’s machines, but while he told the planet newspaper reporter there have been only “…four on earth, other two being in the possession of Prof. O’Reilly…”
O’Reilly’s comments within an 1898 The Big Apple Sun interview are equally curious. He was quoted saying that he had marketed a “smaller kind of machine” with a “small scale,” but had only ever sold a couple of of these “he uses himself.”
These snippets infer: (1) that O’Reilly didn’t necessarily generate a large amount of the patent machines (2) which he had constructed several type of machine between 1891 and 1898, and (3) that this patent wasn’t the favorite tattooing device all through the 1800s.
The entire implication is the fact O’Reilly (as well as other tattoo artists) continued testing different machines and modifications, even after the patent was issued.
Media reports aren’t always reliable, needless to say. And, we’re definitely missing components of the puzzle. But there’s more. Additional evidence corroborates the use of a assortment of needle cartridge during this era. To date, neither a working illustration of O’Reilly’s patent model, nor an image of a single has surfaced. But a straight-handled adaptation in the Edison pen is depicted in many media photos. For years, this machine has become a way to obtain confusion. The most obvious stumper is definitely the missing crooked tube assembly. Ironically, the absence of this feature is a clue by itself. It indicates there seemed to be an alternate way to render the Edison pen operable for tattooing.
Anyone familiar with rotary driven machines -of any sort -is aware that proper functioning is contingent together with the cam mechanism. The cam is actually a machine part that changes a machine’s motion, usually from rotary motion to reciprocating motion, by working on a follower (i.e. needle/needle bar on the tattoo machine). Cams may be found in varied sizes and shapes. An apt sized/shaped cam is vital to precise control and timing of any machine, and if damaged or changed, can modify the way a piece of equipment operates. Is it feasible, then, that simply altering the cam on Edison’s rotary pen may make it functional for tattooing? All of the evidence shows that it had been an important portion of the solution.
Thomas Edison paid special awareness of the cam mechanism on his 1876 rotary pen. The cam was enclosed inside a nook on top of the needle-bar, the location where the needle bar met the rotating shaft (axis). The rotating shaft (axis) was positioned throughout the direct center from the cam and also the flywheel. As being the fly wheel revolved, and turned the rotating shaft, the cam turned with it, inducing the needle-bar (follower) to advance down and up.
Inside the text of his 1875 British patent (UK 3762), Edison noted the cam on his rotary pens could have “one or higher arms” acting upon the needle bar. Annually later, as he patented the rotary pen within the Usa (US Patent 180,857), he specified that he’d chosen to implement a 3 pointed-cam (three-armed or triangle-shaped cam), mainly because it gave three down and up motions to the needle per revolution, and therefore more perforations per revolution. Perhaps, after some experimentation, Edison determined this kind of cam shape best-produced the rapid movement required of his stencil pen. As we know, it didn’t benefit tattooing. In O’Reilly’s words, it had been too “weak” -the stroke/throw of the machine wasn’t long enough -and wasn’t best for getting ink in to the skin.
Modern day rotary tattoo machines also greatly depend upon cam mechanics, but they’re fitted using a round shaped “eccentric cam” by having an off-centered pin instead of an armed cam. Several of today’s rotary machines are constructed to match a variety of different sized eccentric cams, which adjust the machine’s throw, so it can be used for either outlining or shading or coloring. i.e. larger cams lengthen the throw, smaller ones shorten it. (Note: The terms eccentric and cam are often used interchangeably).
Did O’Reilly know of the purpose of the cam? Unfortunately, since O’Reilly’s foremost invention claims were the custom tube assembly and the addition of an ink reservoir, he wasn’t expected to outline the cam or cam mechanism on his patent application. Take note, however, the cam on O’Reilly’s accompanying diagram is conspicuously diamond-shaped as an alternative to three-pointed as on Edison’s rotary. Furthermore, it seems to be of larger proportion. If O’Reilly’s diagram holds true-to-life, it suggests he was aware to some degree that changing the cam would affect the way the machine operated. Why, then, did he proceed to the greater extent of devising a complicated tube assembly?
Maybe O’Reilly wasn’t capable to implement a cam that completely solved the adaptability issues of your Edison pen. It’s just as possible the modified tube assembly was intended to make your machine much more functional beyond a fitting cam. Frustratingly, we’ll probably never know. Regardless of the case, it appears that sooner or later someone (even perhaps O’Reilly) did discover a cam (or multiple cams) that worked sufficiently enough for tattooing.
Quite pertinently, per year plus a half after the 1891 patent is in place -in July of 1893 -the Boston Herald published a post about Captain Fred McKay of Boston, and distinctly described his tattoo machine as an “Edison electric pen” having a “larger eccentric” to “give the needle more play;” he used this particular machine for outlining (with one needle) and shading (with seven needles).
Because the article doesn’t illustrate McKay’s machine, we can’t be 100% sure it didn’t also include O’Reilly’s specialized tube assembly. However, it’s tough to explain why the Boston Herald reporter might have singled out the altered cam, a little hidden feature, over a large outward modification for instance a re-configured tube assembly. Besides, all evidence indicates that altering the cam was a feasible adaptation; one which also accounts for the existence of straight-handled Edison pen-tattoo machines. (See postscripts 1 & 2)
Did early tattooers use a number of different size cams to alter the throw on the Edison pen? Were additional modifications required? Also, would the cam solution happen to be more or less effective than O’Reilly’s tube assembly system? And which came first? That can say. One important thing is for sure progression in technology requires ongoing trials -constant tinkering, testing, and sharing of knowledge. Patents are simply one element of the process.
O’Reilly’s patent innovations were important and surely generated additional experimentation and discoveries. Concurrently, there will need to have been numerous un-patented inventions. It makes sense that there were multiple adaptations of the Edison pen (In the March 4, 1898 Jackson Patriot news article, an ex-sailor named Clarence Smith claimed to have adapted the Edison pen for tattooing around 1890 by somehow “shortening the stroke” and “altering the needle”). Early tattooers undoubtedly constructed a miscellany of machines with diverse modifications, relying on perforating devices, dental drills, engravers, sewing machines, telegraphs, telephones, and several various other devices; some we’ve never seen or read about and several that worked better than others.
While care should be taken with media reports, the consistent utilisation of the word “hammer” within the article invokes something apart from an Edison pen; a dental plugger aka dental hammer is really what comes to mind. (A vacation hammer’s pivoting hammer arm shares an uncanny resemblance using the like part on a dental plugger). That O’Reilly might have been tattooing by using a dental plugger even though his patent was in place will not be so farfetched. The device he’s holding within the image seen here in this 1901 article looks suspiciously similar to a dental plugger.
Yet another report in a 1897 Nebraska Journal article, described O’Reilly outlining tattoos with a “stylus with a small battery about the end,” and putting in color having a similar, but smaller, machine using more needles. This article will not specify what kinds of machines they were, although the word “stylus” implies a straight-handled device. Also, the truth that they differed in size, indicates they probably weren’t Edison pens, which in terms of we all know arrived in one standard size.
Exactly the same article proceeds to clarify O’Reilly’s shading machine, which operated by clockwork as an alternative to electricity. It had fifty needles and was “actuated by a heavy [clockwork] spring.” This machine may be the one depicted in the September 11, 1898 Chicago Tribune illustration of O’Reilly tattooing dogs. It seems much like other perforator pens from the era, an effective example being the pattern making device patented by British sewing machine manufacturers Wilson, Hansen, and Treinan (UK 5009)December 7, 1878. This gadget experienced a end up mechanism similar to a clock and is also thought to are already modified for tattooing.
1899 Ev’ry Month Magazine. Another unique machine appears in an 1899 Ev’ry Month Magazine article about O’Reilly, England’s Sutherland McDonald, and Japan’s Hori Chiyo. The article author of the article, however, didn’t offer specifics for this device.
Another unique machine appears in an October 1899 Ev’ry Month Magazine article about O’Reilly, England’s Sutherland McDonald, and Japan’s Hori Chiyo. The article author in the article, however, didn’t offer specifics about this device.
An innovator of this era, who never obtained a patent for his invention, was “Electric” Elmer Getchell (1863-1940), a longstanding tattoo artist from Boston. Getchell’s descendants say he was “scholarly” and “a jack of all the trades,” skilled as a steamboat captain, horseshoer, chemist, and water color artist. Family lore also says he was the inventor of the modern day electric tattoo machine.
Through the Spanish American war Getchell partnered with O’Reilly in their New York Bowery shop at 5 Chatham Square. Ultimately, they had a falling out. As outlined by documents of the U.S. District Court for that Southern District of brand new York, in April of 1899, O’Reilly filed charges against Getchell, claiming he had infringed on his patent by selling machines made based on the patent “within the district of Massachusetts and elsewhere,” and that he was “threatening to produce the aforesaid tattooing machines in large quantities, as well as to provide you with the market therewith as well as sell the same…” Getchell then hired a legal professional and moved to a different shop across the street at 11 Chatham Square.
In his rebuttal testimony, Getchell clarified that his tattoo machine was not made “employing or containing any portion of the said alleged invention [patent].” He further proclaimed that O’Reilly didn’t make use of the patent machine, mainly because it was “impractical, inoperative, and wholly useless.” Most significantly, he maintained how the reasons for O’Reilly’s machines was, in fact, invented by Thomas Edison.
The past component of Getchell’s argument held particular weight. As he had likely borrowed ideas using their company devices to create his machine, even O’Reilly’s (i.e. an ink reservoir), he only was required to demonstrate the novelty of his invention, just like O’Reilly had completed with his patent. As an aside, Getchell called upon patent expert Octavius Knight to testify in the case. Court documents tend not to specify whether Knight ever took the stand, but regarding the time he was supposed to appear, the way it is was dropped.
So what was Getchell’s invention? Court papers reference a pair of Getchell’s machines, Exhibit A, the appliance he was currently using, and Exhibit C, a piece of equipment he’d supposedly invented in prior years. Unfortunately, neither is illustrated in every detail. Tattoo artist Lew Alberts (1880-1954) described Getchell’s invention being a “vibrator” in the 1926 interview with all the Winston-Salem Journal, that he differentiated from O’Reilly’s “electric needle.” The word “vibrator” infers that Getchell’s machine operated by means of a vibrating electromagnetic motor. (Edison known as his electromagnetic stencil pen being a “vibrator.”)
Alberts’ description isn’t specific and could have referred to several electromagnetic devices. But a grainy picture of Getchell’s machine in the 1902 New York Tribune article looks like a current day tattoo machine, including an L-shaped frame and dual front-to-back (in line with the frame) electromagnetic coils.
A clearer duplicate with this image seen below -which once hung in the tattoo shop of famous Norfolk, Virginia tattoo artist “Cap” Coleman and is also now housed from the Tattoo Archive -settles any uncertainty on the matter. Getchell’s machine was absolutely of modern day build.
Evidently, Getchell have been using this particular machine for some time. The 1902 The Big Apple Tribune article reported which he had invented it “a amount of years” prior, inferably at about the time O’Reilly brought charges against him. Possibly even earlier. As noted, O’Reilly claimed Getchell had made and sold his machines “within the district of Massachusetts.” It’s quite probable that Getchell had invented the machine under consideration before he permanently left his hometown of Boston, Massachusetts in 1897.
It’s well established that modern tattoo machines derive from vibrating bell mechanisms -operated by two electromagnetic coils, which actuate the vibrating motion of an armature so therefore the reciprocating motion of the needle. More specifically, what type using the armature arranged together with the coils. Vibrating bell mechanisms were quite powerful, ingeniously streamlined constructions utilized in various types of alarms, annunciators, indicators, and doorbells from your mid-1800s on. Whether or not this was actually Getchell or another person, who once again, made the intuitive leap of transforming a standalone electromagnetic mechanism in a handheld device, the bell tattoo machine had irrefutably taken hold by the turn from the century. A variety of period photos have turned up depicting quite modern looking machines.
We may never understand the precise date the very first bell tattoo machine was made. But it’s possible their seemingly sudden popularity is connected with the emergence of mail order catalogs accountable for bringing affordable technology on the door of the average citizen in the late 1800s. Sears Roebuck and several other retailers set the buzz when they began offering a wide array of merchandise through mail order; the selection of electric bells (i.e. alarms, annunciators, and doorbells), batteries, wiring, et cetera might have provided a multiplicity of inspiration for tattoo artists.
Interestingly, the catalogs marketed some types of bells (particularly doorbells) as outfits, due to deficiency of electrical wiring in many homes and buildings. They was made up of a battery, wiring, and either a nickel or wood box encasing. There’s something being said for the fact that tattoo machines were also later sold as “outfits,” including batteries and wiring. (In England, on March 24, 1900, Alfred South of England actually received a patent for any tattoo machine based on a doorbell mechanism (UK 13,359). Additionally, it included the doorbell encasing).
However tinkering tattoo artists were brought to bells, the discovery led the right way to a new arena of innovation. With so much variety in bells along with the versatility in their movable parts, tattoo artists could experiment with countless inventive combinations, all set to function on an excpetionally reliable mechanism.
Bell mechanisms were typically mounted on a wood or metal base, so they are often held on a wall. Not all, however, many, were also fitted within a frame which had been meant to keep working parts properly aligned in spite of the constant jarring from the bell. With minor modification a bell mechanism, in particular those having a frame, could possibly be taken off the wood or metal base and changed into a tattoo machine; i.e. adding a needle bar, tube, along with a tube holder (vice) of some type.
The normal consensus is the earliest bell tattoo machines were established/modified bell mechanisms, with additional parts, like the tube or vice, welded or screwed on. Later, as tattoo machines evolved, frames were cast from customized intact molds, then assembled with the addition of the adjustable parts; i.e. the armature, coils, needle bar, armature springs, binding posts, contacts, etc.
A single bell put in place provided the framework of a tattoo machine style known today like a “classic single-upright” -a device having an L-shaped frame, a vertical bar on one side along with a short “shelf” extending from your back side.
Machines with left-side uprights are referred to as left-handed machines. Machines with right-side uprights are called right-handed machines. (It has nothing concerning whether the tattoo artist is left-handed or right-handed).su4
It’s generally considered that left-handed machines came first, as the frame is akin to typical bell frames of the era. Right-handed machines, which eventually won out over left-handed machines, are believed to possess come along around or right after the 1910s. However, as evidenced through the Getchell photo, right-handed tattoo machines were made in a significantly early date.
That’s its not all. The main reason right-handed tattoo machines are believed to obtain come later is because they are seen as spin-offs of left-handed machines, the assumption being how the right side upright was really a never-before-seen innovation implemented by an experimenting tattoo artist. (i.e. a frame casting mold was “invented” that positioned the upright on the right side instead of the left side). Mainly because it ends up, bell frames with right side uprights existed alongside their left-sided counterparts. Though they seem to have been rarer, they very well could possibly have provided the inspiration for right-handed tattoo machines.
You can find far too many bell-influenced adaptations to outline in this post. Only one prominent example will be the back return spring assembly modification which has often been implemented in tattoo needle cartridge over the years. On bells -with or without a frame -this put in place consists of a lengthened armature, or perhaps an extra steel pivoting piece, extended past the top back section of the armature. The armature or pivoting piece is steadied by two screws at a pivot point, a return spring is attached at the backmost end and anchored to bolt below. As outlined by one catalog description, these bells produced “a powerful blow” ideal for a burglar alarm or railroad signal.
The create on tattoo machines is similar, except a rubberband may also be used as opposed to a return spring. Basically, a rubberband or return spring is linked to the top, backmost a part of a lengthened armature after which secured to a modified, lengthened post towards the bottom end of the frame. The back return spring essentially regulates tension and proper functioning, exactly like the back armature spring on modern tattoo machines. (An illustration of Walter Cleveland’s c. 1920s to 1940s version of this kind of machine can be viewed inside the Tattoo Archive’s online store here).
The pivoting armature-return spring create could have been first implemented in an early date. Notably, bells with all the corresponding structure were sold by brands like Vallee Bros. and Stanley & Patterson and Company from the mid-to-late 1890s.
Charlie Wagner implemented a variation for this idea in the 1904 patent machine (US Patent 768,413). His version consisted of a lengthy pivoting piece coupled to the armature 20dexmpky bent downward at the 90 degree angle off the back of the equipment frame; the return spring was connected horizontally, involving the bent down arm and also the machine, instead of vertically.
The pivoting armature-return spring put in place actually goes back much further. It was an important part of a few of the early 1800s telegraph relay systems (though in telegraphs, the coils, armature, and return spring were positioned differently). To emphasize just how much overlap there may be in invention, both W.G.A. Bonwill’s twin-coiled dental plugger patents (as well as the improved, manufactured model) employed variants of the put in place. It shouldn’t come like a surprise. In the end, Bonwill was inspired through the telegraph.