Backstory aside, it’s clear that inventors like Bonwill, Green, and Edison -who made the extraordinary, inventive leap of converting an electromagnetic coil mechanism in a practical handheld instrument -greatly influenced the introduction of Tattoo Supplies. Unnamed others unquestionably played a role as well. In the 1870s, electric handheld implements were, as of yet, novelties. When tradesman and practitioners began utilizing these tools in a professional capacity, they encountered limitations. Efforts to settle shortcomings triggered further discovery and innovation. When tattoo artists began modifying exactly the same electric devices with regard to their own purposes, it would have produced a whole new wave of findings.
At this moment, the total selection of machines open to early tattooers isn’t known. But dental pluggers and Edison’s rotary pen (the only real known Edison pen manufactured) were conceivably at the top of their list. Inside an 1898 The Big Apple Sun interview, O’Reilly said he experimented with both before settling on his patent design. Along with his dental plugger machine, he claimed, he could tattoo somebody around in less than 6 weeks. But there seemed to be room for improvement. Discussing the trial-and-error process, he was quoted saying 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 very own idea, had it patented, and got a qualified mechanic to construct the appliance.”
O’Reilly’s patent machine, in simple terms an Edison pen, was modified with the help of an ink reservoir, accommodations for over one needle, and a specialized tube assembly system meant to solve the “weakness” issue of his previous machines. Like the original Edison pen, the reciprocating action of O’Reilly’s machine, was actuated by using an eccentric (cam) working on the top of the needle bar. But instead of a straight stylus, the tube encasing the needle bar (even the handle) was constructed with two 90 degree angles, as the needle bar inside was segmented with pivots. This put in place allowed for a lever and fulcrum system that further acted about the lower end of the needle bar and theoretically served to lengthen the stroke/throw from the needle.
Mainly because it appears, the patent office didn’t consider O’Reilly’s “improvements” all of that innovative. They denied his application in the beginning. Not because his invention was too just like Edison’s 1876 rotary device, but as it bore likenesses to Augustus C. Carey’s 1884 autographic pen patent (US Patent 304,613). They denied it another 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 experience of the UK patent it will not have involved invention to incorporate an ink reservoir on the Carey pen. (Carey’s patent already included specifications for a kind of ink duct).
Due to crossover in invention, O’Reilly needed to revise his claims repeatedly before his patent was granted. This actually happened frequently. Patent law permits inventions based on existing patents. But applicants must prove their creation is novel and distinct. This can be tricky and may be one reason more of the early tattoo artists didn’t patent their ideas -though for all those we realize several probably have tried and failed. (Unfortunately, all pre-1920s abandoned patent applications happen to be destroyed).
Based on legend, twenty days after O’Reilly obtained his rotary patent from the United states, England’s Tom Riley allegedly obtained a British patent to get a single-coil machine. However, while Riley could possibly have invented this type of device, he didn’t patent it. A British patent isn’t on file. More likely, the story continues to be confused over time. Pat Brooklyn -in the interview with Tom Riley entitled Pictures on the Skin -discusses one particular-coil machine Riley was tattooing within 1903, but doesn’t mention a patent just for this machine by any means. What he does inform is that this: “The electric-needle was introduced by Mr. Riley with his fantastic cousin, Mr. S.F. O’Riley [sic]…and was patented by them on December 8, 1891, while it has since had several alterations and improvements intended to it.”
Since we all know Riley wasn’t O’Reilly’s co-patentee, his claims within this interview were obviously embellished. Once the story was printed though, it was probably handed down and muddied with every re-telling. It adequately could have inspired the comments in George Burchett’s Memoirs of any Tattooist; that Riley obtained a British patent on December 28, 1891, which improved on O’Reilly’s patent by adding six needles. The very first British tattoo machine patent was actually issued to Sutherland MacDonald on December 29, 1894 (UK 3035) (note the similarity of your month and day with the alleged Riley patent). Sutherland’s machine was cylindrical shaped using the needles moving with the core of the electromagnetic coils inside, quite similarly to a few of the cylindrical shaped dental pluggers and perforating pens in the 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 a “skilled mechanic” built his patent model. This may have been the machinist, inventor, and mechanical illusionist from England, named John Feggetter Blake, or “Professor Feggetter” to dime museum audiences. After arriving from the Usa in 1872, Blake obtained numerous patents for his inventions, the very first becoming 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 Local Courts in Ny City, 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 spot of Edwin Thomas’ tattoo shop before he was imprisoned for shooting his ex-girlfriend in 1890.
Not only did Blake’s patent lawyers (John Van Santvoord and William Hauff) submit O’Reilly’s initial patent claim in July of 1891, but additionally, in October, not a long time after his patent claims were first denied, O’Reilly signed like a witness on Blake’s naturalization application.
Although we can’t make sure that Blake was active in the development of O’Reilly’s invention, it’s striking that numerous of his inventions operated via pivots, levers, and fulcrums, very much like O’Reilly’s tube assembly. Also, from the years just following O’Reilly’s patent Blake began patenting several electromagnetic contact devices.
Adding to intrigue, Blake was associated with John Williams, the dime show tattooer who claimed both he and O’Reilly discovered a “new method” of tattooing a few years earlier. Both had headlined together in Boston and Ny dime museums before Williams left for England.
No matter what link with one of these other men, O’Reilly holds the patent. Today, his invention is upheld since the ultimate tattoo machine of the day. Since the product of dedicated trials, O’Reilly’s patent machine significantly led to the advancement of tattoo machines. And, he certainly deserves the accolades for his efforts, specifically for being the first to get a patent. But there’s some question as to if he ever manufactured his invention -over a large anyway -or whether or not this is in wide spread use at any given point.
In 1893, just 2 yrs following the patent is in place, tattoo artist and vaudeville actor Arthur Birchman claimed he owned 2 of O’Reilly’s machines, but since he told the entire world newspaper reporter there was only “…four on earth, other two getting into the possession of Prof. O’Reilly…”
O’Reilly’s comments inside an 1898 New York City Sun interview are equally curious. He was quoted saying he had marketed a “smaller type of machine” over a “small scale,” but had only ever sold 2 or 3 of the “he uses himself.”
These snippets infer: (1) that O’Reilly didn’t necessarily produce a large number of the patent machines (2) he had constructed a couple of form of machine between 1891 and 1898, and (3) that this patent wasn’t the most preferred tattooing device for the duration of the 1800s.
The overall implication is O’Reilly (and also other tattoo artists) continued experimenting with different machines and modifications, despite the patent was issued.
Media reports aren’t always reliable, needless to say. And, we’re definitely missing bits of the puzzle. But there’s more. Additional evidence corroborates the use of a variety of tattoo needle cartridge throughout this era. To date, neither a working instance of O’Reilly’s patent model, nor a photo of a single has surfaced. But a straight-handled adaptation in the Edison pen is depicted in numerous media photos. For several years, this machine is a method to obtain confusion. The obvious stumper is the missing crooked tube assembly. Ironically, the absence of this feature can be a clue in itself. It indicates there was clearly an additional way to render the Edison pen operable for tattooing.
Anyone familiar with rotary driven machines -of any sort -understands that proper functioning is contingent with all the cam mechanism. The cam is 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 over a tattoo machine). Cams come in varied shapes and sizes. An apt sized/shaped cam is very important to precise control and timing of any machine, and in case damaged or changed, can affect the way a device operates. Is it possible, then, which simply altering the cam on Edison’s rotary pen can make it functional for tattooing? All the evidence suggests that it had been a serious section of the solution.
Thomas Edison paid special focus to the cam mechanism on his 1876 rotary pen. The cam was enclosed in the nook towards the top of the needle-bar, where the needle bar met the rotating shaft (axis). The rotating shaft (axis) was positioned through the direct center in the cam as well as the flywheel. Since the fly wheel revolved, and turned the rotating shaft, the cam turned from it, creating the needle-bar (follower) to go all around.
In the text of his 1875 British patent (UK 3762), Edison noted how the cam on his rotary pens may have “one or maybe more arms” acting upon the needle bar. Each year later, as he patented the rotary pen inside the United states (US Patent 180,857), he specified that he’d chosen to implement a 3 pointed-cam (three-armed or triangle-shaped cam), since it gave three up and down motions for the needle per revolution, and therefore more perforations per revolution. Perhaps, after a little experimentation, Edison determined this kind of cam shape best-produced the rapid movement required of his stencil pen. As we know, it didn’t work with tattooing. In O’Reilly’s words, it absolutely was too “weak” -the stroke/throw of your machine wasn’t long enough -and wasn’t designed for getting ink in the skin.
Modern day rotary tattoo machines also greatly depend upon cam mechanics, but they’re fitted using a round shaped “eccentric cam” with the off-centered pin rather than an armed cam. Most of today’s rotary machines are constructed to fit various 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 tend to be used interchangeably).
Did O’Reilly know of the function 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 necessary to outline the cam or cam mechanism on his patent application. Take note, however, that this cam on O’Reilly’s accompanying diagram is conspicuously diamond-shaped instead of three-pointed as on Edison’s rotary. In addition, it appears 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 how the machine operated. Why, then, did he visit 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 the Edison pen. It’s in the same way possible the modified tube assembly was meant to make the machine more functional far beyond a fitting cam. Frustratingly, we’ll probably never know. Whatever the case, it seems that at some point someone (even perhaps O’Reilly) did locate a cam (or multiple cams) that worked sufficiently enough for tattooing.
Quite pertinently, annually along with a half once the 1891 patent was in place -in July of 1893 -the Boston Herald published articles about Captain Fred McKay of Boston, and distinctly described his tattoo machine as an “Edison electric pen” by using a “larger eccentric” to “give the needle more play;” he used this type of machine for both 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 your altered cam, a compact hidden feature, across a large outward modification such as a re-configured tube assembly. Besides, all evidence shows that altering the cam was actually a feasible adaptation; one which also accounts for the presence of straight-handled Edison pen-tattoo machines. (See postscripts 1 & 2)
Did early tattooers use a number of different size cams to adjust the throw around 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. Something is for certain progression in technology requires ongoing trials -constant tinkering, testing, and sharing of information. Patents are merely one component of the method.
O’Reilly’s patent innovations were important and surely generated additional experimentation and discoveries. As well, there will need to have been numerous un-patented inventions. It makes sense there were multiple adaptations of the Edison pen (In a March 4, 1898 Jackson Patriot news article, an ex-sailor named Clarence Smith claimed to obtain adapted the Edison pen for tattooing around 1890 by somehow “shortening the stroke” and “altering the needle”). Early tattooers without doubt constructed a miscellany of machines with diverse modifications, relying on perforating devices, dental drills, engravers, sewing machines, telegraphs, telephones, and lots of other relevant devices; some we’ve never seen or find out about and a few that worked superior to others.
While care should be taken with media reports, the consistent using the word “hammer” from the article invokes something other than an Edison pen; a dental plugger aka dental hammer is exactly what comes to mind. (A vacation hammer’s pivoting hammer arm shares an uncanny resemblance with the like part on a dental plugger). That O’Reilly might have been tattooing using a dental plugger even after his patent is in place will not be so farfetched. These devices he’s holding from the image seen here in this 1901 article looks suspiciously such as a dental plugger.
One more report in an 1897 Nebraska Journal article, described O’Reilly outlining tattoos using a “stylus using a small battery on the end,” and investing in color with a similar, but smaller, machine using more needles. This content does not specify what sorts of machines they were, even though word “stylus” implies a straight-handled device. Also, the truth that they differed in proportions, indicates they probably weren’t Edison pens, which with regards to we realize arrived one standard size.
The same article continues on to explain O’Reilly’s shading machine, which operated by clockwork rather than electricity. It had fifty needles and was “actuated by way of a heavy [clockwork] spring.” This machine could be the one depicted in the September 11, 1898 Chicago Tribune illustration of O’Reilly tattooing dogs. It seems much like other perforator pens of the era, an excellent example being the pattern making device patented by British sewing machine manufacturers Wilson, Hansen, and Treinan (UK 5009)December 7, 1878. This product experienced a end up mechanism similar to a clock and it is said to happen to be modified for tattooing.
1899 Ev’ry Month Magazine. Another unique machine appears in a 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 for this device.
Another unique machine appears in a October 1899 Ev’ry Month Magazine article about O’Reilly, England’s Sutherland McDonald, and Japan’s Hori Chiyo. The writer from the article, however, didn’t offer specifics with this device.
An innovator on 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 most trades,” skilled being a steamboat captain, horseshoer, chemist, and water color artist. Family lore also says he was the inventor of the contemporary electric tattoo machine.
Through the Spanish American war Getchell partnered with O’Reilly in the New York Bowery shop at 5 Chatham Square. Ultimately, that they had a falling out. Based on documents in the Usa District Court for the Southern District of New York, in April of 1899, O’Reilly filed charges against Getchell, claiming that he had infringed on his patent by selling machines made in line with the patent “within the district of Massachusetts and elsewhere,” which he was “threatening to help make the aforesaid tattooing machines in large quantities, and also to supply the market therewith and also to sell the same…” Getchell then hired a legal professional and moved completely to another shop down the street at 11 Chatham Square.
In the rebuttal testimony, Getchell clarified that his tattoo machine had not been made “employing or containing any section 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 the first step toward O’Reilly’s machines was, the simple truth is, created by Thomas Edison.
The past element of Getchell’s argument held particular weight. As he had likely borrowed ideas off their devices to make his machine, even O’Reilly’s (i.e. an ink reservoir), he only needed 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 inside the case. Court documents usually do not specify whether Knight ever took the stand, but concerning the time he was supposed to appear, the way it is was dropped.
So what was Getchell’s invention? Court papers reference two of Getchell’s machines, Exhibit A, the appliance he was currently using, and Exhibit C, a machine he’d supposedly invented in prior years. Unfortunately, neither is illustrated in virtually any detail. Tattoo artist Lew Alberts (1880-1954) described Getchell’s invention like a “vibrator” in a 1926 interview with all the Winston-Salem Journal, that he differentiated from O’Reilly’s “electric needle.” The term “vibrator” infers that Getchell’s machine operated by means of a vibrating electromagnetic motor. (Edison described his electromagnetic stencil pen being a “vibrator.”)
Alberts’ description isn’t specific and could have described 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, complete with an L-shaped frame and dual front-to-back (in line with the frame) electromagnetic coils.
A clearer duplicate of this image seen below -which once hung from the tattoo shop of famous Norfolk, Virginia tattoo artist “Cap” Coleman and it is now housed within the Tattoo Archive -settles any uncertainty within the matter. Getchell’s machine was absolutely of modern day build.
Evidently, Getchell was using this type of machine for a time. The 1902 Ny Tribune article reported that he or she had invented it “a number of years” prior, inferably around 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 possible that Getchell had invented the device in question before he permanently left his hometown of Boston, Massachusetts in 1897.
It’s well-established that modern tattoo machines are derived from vibrating bell mechanisms -operated by two electromagnetic coils, which actuate the vibrating motion of an armature thus the reciprocating motion from the needle. Specifically, the type with all the armature arranged together with the coils. Vibrating bell mechanisms were quite powerful, ingeniously streamlined constructions employed in various alarms, annunciators, indicators, and doorbells in the mid-1800s on. If it was really Getchell or other people, who yet again, made the intuitive leap of transforming a stand-alone electromagnetic mechanism right into a handheld device, the bell tattoo machine had irrefutably taken hold through the turn of the century. Several period photos have turned up depicting quite modern looking machines.
We might never be aware of precise date the first bell tattoo machine was developed. But it’s possible their seemingly sudden popularity is connected with the emergence of mail order catalogs responsible for bringing affordable technology towards the door from the average citizen in the late 1800s. Sears Roebuck and plenty of other retailers set the trend once they began offering a wide array of merchandise through mail order; the variety of electric bells (i.e. alarms, annunciators, and doorbells), batteries, wiring, et cetera will have provided a multiplicity of inspiration for tattoo artists.
Interestingly, the catalogs marketed some kinds of bells (particularly doorbells) as outfits, due to deficiency of electrical wiring in the majority of homes and buildings. They consisted of a battery, wiring, and either a nickel or wood box encasing. There’s something to get said for the fact that tattoo machines were also later sold as “outfits,” filled with batteries and wiring. (In England, on March 24, 1900, Alfred South of England actually received a patent for any tattoo machine based upon a doorbell mechanism (UK 13,359). Furthermore, it included the doorbell encasing).
However tinkering tattoo artists were unveiled in bells, the discovery led the way to a whole new arena of innovation. With much variety in bells and the versatility in their movable parts, tattoo artists could try countless inventive combinations, all set to use on an excpetionally reliable mechanism.
Bell mechanisms were typically installed on a wood or metal base, so they may be hung on a wall. Its not all, however some, 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, especially those by using a frame, could possibly be pulled from the wood or metal base and changed into a tattoo machine; i.e. adding a needle bar, tube, and a tube holder (vice) of some type.
The overall consensus would be that the earliest bell tattoo machines were built up/modified bell mechanisms, with additional parts, including the tube and/or vice, welded or screwed on. Later, as tattoo machines evolved, frames were cast from customized intact molds, then assembled by adding the adjustable parts; i.e. the armature, coils, needle bar, armature springs, binding posts, contacts, etc.
One particular bell put in place provided the framework of the tattoo machine style known today as a “classic single-upright” -a unit with the L-shaped frame, an upright bar using one side plus a short “shelf” extending in the back side.
Machines with left-side uprights are termed 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 thought that left-handed machines came first, since the frame is akin to typical bell frames of the era. Right-handed machines, which eventually won out over left-handed machines, are thought to get come along around or after the 1910s. However, as evidenced from the Getchell photo, right-handed tattoo machines were made with a significantly early date.
That’s not every. The main reason right-handed tattoo machines are believed to have come later is that they are thought of as spin-offs of left-handed machines, the assumption being that the right side upright had been 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 as opposed to the left side). Mainly because it ends up, bell frames with right side uprights existed alongside their left-sided counterparts. Though they have been rarer, they adequately may have provided the inspiration for right-handed tattoo machines.
You can find too many bell-influenced adaptations to outline in this article. Only one prominent example is the back return spring assembly modification which has often been implemented in needle cartridge over the years. On bells -with or without a frame -this create includes a lengthened armature, or even an extra steel pivoting piece, extended beyond the top back section of the armature. The armature or pivoting piece is steadied by two screws with a pivot point, then the return spring is attached in the backmost end and anchored to bolt below. According to one catalog description, these bells produced “a powerful blow” excellent for an alarm or railroad signal.
The set up on tattoo machines is similar, except a rubberband is oftentimes used as opposed to a return spring. Basically, a rubberband or return spring is attached to the top, backmost component of a lengthened armature then secured to your modified, lengthened post in the bottom end from the frame. The back return spring essentially regulates tension and proper functioning, exactly like your back armature spring on modern tattoo machines. (An illustration of Walter Cleveland’s c. 1920s to 1940s version of this particular machine can be seen inside the Tattoo Archive’s web shop here).
The pivoting armature-return spring setup could have been first implemented at an early date. Notably, bells with the corresponding structure were sold by businesses like Vallee Bros. and Stanley & Patterson and Company inside the mid-to-late 1890s.
Charlie Wagner implemented a variation on this idea in the 1904 patent machine (US Patent 768,413). His version consisted of a prolonged pivoting piece connected to the armature 20dexmpky bent downward in a 90 degree angle off the back of the machine frame; the return spring was connected horizontally, involving the bent down arm and also the machine, as opposed to vertically.
The pivoting armature-return spring create actually goes back much further. It had been an important component of several 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 exists in invention, each of W.G.A. Bonwill’s twin-coiled dental plugger patents (and the improved, manufactured model) employed variants of this put in place. It shouldn’t come as being a surprise. After all, Bonwill was inspired from the telegraph.