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 to a practical handheld instrument -greatly influenced the introduction of Tattoo Supplies. Unnamed others unquestionably played a part too. In the 1870s, electric handheld implements were, at the time 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 the same electric devices for their own purposes, it might have produced another wave of findings.
At this stage, the total selection of machines available to early tattooers isn’t known. But dental pluggers and Edison’s rotary pen (the only known Edison pen manufactured) were conceivably on top of the list. In a 1898 New York City 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 an individual across in under about 6 weeks. But there was clearly room for improvement. Discussing the trial-and-error process, he stated 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 an experienced mechanic to build the device.”
O’Reilly’s patent machine, essentially an Edison pen, was modified with the addition of an ink reservoir, accommodations for more than one needle, as well as a specialized tube assembly system supposed to solve the “weakness” issue of his previous machines. Just 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 (also the handle) was developed with two 90 degree angles, while the needle bar inside was segmented with pivots. This create allowed for the lever and fulcrum system that further acted on the lower end of the needle bar and theoretically served to lengthen the stroke/throw of the needle.
Since 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 similar to Edison’s 1876 rotary device, but because 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 relationship with great britain patent it would not have involved invention to incorporate an ink reservoir to the Carey pen. (Carey’s patent already included specifications for a form of ink duct).
As a result of crossover in invention, O’Reilly had to revise his claims several times before his patent was granted. This actually happened frequently. Patent law permits inventions based upon existing patents. But applicants ought to prove their creation is novel and distinct. This is often tricky and may also be one reason more of the early tattoo artists didn’t patent their ideas -though for all we understand a few 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 Usa, England’s Tom Riley allegedly obtained a British patent for any single-coil machine. However, while Riley might have invented this type of device, he didn’t patent it. A British patent isn’t on file. Very likely, the storyline has become confused over time. Pat Brooklyn -in the interview with Tom Riley entitled Pictures on the Skin -discusses an individual-coil machine Riley was tattooing with in 1903, but doesn’t mention a patent with this machine at all. What he does inform is that this: “The electric-needle was created 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 made to it.”
Since we realize Riley wasn’t O’Reilly’s co-patentee, his claims in this particular interview were obviously embellished. As soon as the story was printed though, it was probably handed down and muddied with every re-telling. It well could possibly 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 with the addition of six needles. The first British tattoo machine patent was really issued to Sutherland MacDonald on December 29, 1894 (UK 3035) (note the similarity of the month and day with all the alleged Riley patent). Sutherland’s machine was cylindrical shaped together with the needles moving from the core of the electromagnetic coils inside, quite similarly to several of the cylindrical shaped dental pluggers and perforating pens of the era.
With the problems O’Reilly encountered together with his patent, it’s possible he enlisted help. The patent process entails consulting trusted experts and O’Reilly himself acknowledged that 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 from the United states in 1872, Blake obtained numerous patents for his inventions, the 1st becoming a Three Headed Songstress illusion sponsored by Bunnell’s Dime Museum of brand new York. And, he was knowledgeable about O’Reilly.
National Archives and Records Administration; Washington, D.C.; Index to Petitions for Naturalizations Filed in Federal, State, and Local 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 Local Courts in Ny City, 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 long after his patent claims were first denied, O’Reilly signed as a witness on Blake’s naturalization application.
Although we can’t make sure that Blake was in the progression of O’Reilly’s invention, it’s striking that numerous of his inventions operated via pivots, levers, and fulcrums, just like O’Reilly’s tube assembly. Also, inside the years just following O’Reilly’s patent Blake began patenting a series of electromagnetic contact devices.
Contributing 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 several years earlier. The two had headlined together in both Boston and New York dime museums before Williams left for England.
No matter what the link using these other men, O’Reilly supports the patent. Today, his invention is upheld because the ultimate tattoo machine from the day. As being the product of dedicated trials, O’Reilly’s patent machine significantly led to the growth of tattoo machines. And, he certainly deserves the accolades for his efforts, specifically for being the first to have a patent. But there’s some question whether or not he ever manufactured his invention -with a large anyway -or whether it is at wide spread use at any point.
In 1893, just a couple of years once the patent is at place, tattoo artist and vaudeville actor Arthur Birchman claimed he owned two of O’Reilly’s machines, but while he told the World newspaper reporter there was only “…four on the planet, one other two getting into the possession of Prof. O’Reilly…”
O’Reilly’s comments inside an 1898 The Big Apple Sun interview are equally curious. He said that he or she had marketed a “smaller kind of machine” on the “small scale,” but had only ever sold several of people “he uses himself.”
These snippets infer: (1) that O’Reilly didn’t necessarily create a large amount of the patent machines (2) which he had constructed a couple of type of machine between 1891 and 1898, and (3) how the patent wasn’t the most well-liked tattooing device right through the 1800s.
The complete implication is that O’Reilly (and other tattoo artists) continued tinkering with different machines and modifications, even with the patent was issued.
Media reports aren’t always reliable, needless to say. And, we’re definitely missing pieces of the puzzle. But there’s more. Additional evidence corroborates using a selection of needle cartridge in this era. To date, neither a working example of O’Reilly’s patent model, nor a photo of one has surfaced. But a straight-handled adaptation of the Edison pen is depicted in several media photos. For several years, this machine has been a way to obtain confusion. The obvious stumper will be the missing crooked tube assembly. Ironically, the absence of this feature can be a clue in itself. It indicates there seemed to be a different way to render the Edison pen operable for tattooing.
Anyone informed about rotary driven machines -associated with a sort -recognizes 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 acting on a follower (i.e. needle/needle bar with a tattoo machine). Cams may be found in varied shapes and forms. An apt sized/shaped cam is very important to precise control and timing of the machine, and if damaged or changed, can change the way a device operates. How is it possible, then, that only altering the cam on Edison’s rotary pen could make it functional for tattooing? Every one of the evidence demonstrates that it was an important portion of the solution.
Thomas Edison paid special focus on the cam mechanism on his 1876 rotary pen. The cam was enclosed inside a nook towards the top of the needle-bar, the location where the needle bar met the rotating shaft (axis). The rotating shaft (axis) was positioned from the direct center of your cam and the flywheel. Because the fly wheel revolved, and turned the rotating shaft, the cam turned by using it, inducing the needle-bar (follower) to maneuver up and down.
Inside the text of his 1875 British patent (UK 3762), Edison noted that the cam on his rotary pens might have “one or maybe more arms” acting upon the needle bar. Each year later, when he patented the rotary pen inside the U.S. (US Patent 180,857), he specified that he’d chosen to implement a three pointed-cam (three-armed or triangle-shaped cam), mainly because it gave three up and down motions on the needle per revolution, and thus more perforations per revolution. Perhaps, after some experimentation, Edison determined this type 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 the machine wasn’t for long enough -and wasn’t suitable for getting ink in the skin.
Current 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 rather than an armed cam. Many of today’s rotary machines are constructed to match a number 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 tend to be used interchangeably).
Did O’Reilly understand about 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 needed to outline the cam or cam mechanism on his patent application. Remember, however, that this cam on O’Reilly’s accompanying diagram is conspicuously diamond-shaped as opposed to three-pointed as on Edison’s rotary. It also seems to be of larger proportion. If O’Reilly’s diagram is valid-to-life, it suggests he was aware to some degree that changing the cam would affect how the machine operated. Why, then, did he check out 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 in the Edison pen. It’s just as possible the modified tube assembly was meant to have the machine more functional far above a fitting cam. Frustratingly, we’ll probably never know. Regardless of the case, it would appear that at some point someone (maybe even O’Reilly) did discover a cam (or multiple cams) that worked sufficiently enough for tattooing.
Quite pertinently, a year and a half after the 1891 patent is at place -in July of 1893 -the Boston Herald published a post about Captain Fred McKay of Boston, and distinctly described his tattoo machine being an “Edison electric pen” with 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 have O’Reilly’s specialized tube assembly. However, it’s hard to explain why the Boston Herald reporter will have singled out of the altered cam, a tiny hidden feature, across a large outward modification say for example a re-configured tube assembly. Besides, all evidence shows that altering the cam was actually 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 various different size cams to modify the throw in the Edison pen? Were additional modifications required? Also, would the cam solution have already been basically effective than O’Reilly’s tube assembly system? And which came first? That can say. Something is certain progression in technology requires ongoing trials -constant tinkering, testing, and sharing of information. Patents are only one facet of the procedure.
O’Reilly’s patent innovations were important and surely led to additional experimentation and discoveries. Concurrently, there should have been numerous un-patented inventions. It makes sense that there were multiple adaptations of your Edison pen (Within a March 4, 1898 Jackson Patriot news article, an ex-sailor named Clarence Smith claimed to possess adapted the Edison pen for tattooing around 1890 by somehow “shortening the stroke” and “altering the needle”). Early tattooers certainly constructed a miscellany of machines with diverse modifications, affected by perforating devices, dental drills, engravers, sewing machines, telegraphs, telephones, and several other related devices; some we’ve never seen or learn about and some that worked a lot better than others.
While care should be taken with media reports, the consistent utilisation of the word “hammer” from the article invokes something apart from an Edison pen; a dental plugger aka dental hammer is what comes to mind. (A visit hammer’s pivoting hammer arm shares an uncanny resemblance with all the like part on a dental plugger). That O’Reilly may have been tattooing with a dental plugger even after his patent was in place is just not so farfetched. The unit he’s holding inside the image seen in this 1901 article looks suspiciously like a dental plugger.
Yet another report in a 1897 Nebraska Journal article, described O’Reilly outlining tattoos having a “stylus by using a small battery in the end,” and putting in color using a similar, but smaller, machine using more needles. The article will not specify what forms of machines these were, although the 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 to illustrate O’Reilly’s shading machine, which operated by clockwork as opposed to electricity. It had fifty needles and was “actuated by way of a heavy [clockwork] spring.” This machine may be the one depicted within a September 11, 1898 Chicago Tribune illustration of O’Reilly tattooing dogs. It seems much like other perforator pens from the era, a good example being the pattern making device patented by British sewing machine manufacturers Wilson, Hansen, and Treinan (UK 5009)December 7, 1878. This device experienced a wind up mechanism akin to a clock and is thought to have been 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 of your 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 from the article, however, didn’t offer specifics with 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 most trades,” skilled being a steamboat captain, horseshoer, chemist, and water color artist. Family lore also says he was the inventor in the current day electric tattoo machine.
Throughout the Spanish American war Getchell partnered with O’Reilly within his New York City Bowery shop at 5 Chatham Square. Ultimately, that they had a falling out. According to documents from the United states District Court to the Southern District newest York, in April of 1899, O’Reilly filed charges against Getchell, claiming that he had infringed on his patent by selling machines made according to the patent “within the district of Massachusetts and elsewhere,” and therefore he was “threatening to create the aforesaid tattooing machines in large quantities, and to provide the market therewith and to sell the same…” Getchell then hired a lawyer and moved to a different shop across the road at 11 Chatham Square.
In his rebuttal testimony, Getchell clarified that his tattoo machine was not made “employing or containing any part of the said alleged invention [patent].” He further proclaimed that O’Reilly didn’t make use of the patent machine, as it was “impractical, inoperative, and wholly useless.” Most significantly, he maintained that this reasons for O’Reilly’s machines was, the truth is, created by Thomas Edison.
The very last component of Getchell’s argument held particular weight. While he had likely borrowed ideas utilizing devices to create his machine, even O’Reilly’s (i.e. an ink reservoir), he only had to demonstrate the novelty of his invention, in the same way O’Reilly had finished with his patent. For an aside, Getchell called upon patent expert Octavius Knight to testify from the case. Court documents tend not to specify whether Knight ever took the stand, but in regards to the time he was likely to appear, the truth was dropped.
So what exactly was Getchell’s invention? Court papers make reference to 2 of Getchell’s machines, Exhibit A, the machine he was currently using, and Exhibit C, a unit 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 as being a “vibrator” within a 1926 interview together with the Winston-Salem Journal, that he differentiated from O’Reilly’s “electric needle.” The phrase “vibrator” infers that Getchell’s machine operated through a vibrating electromagnetic motor. (Edison known as his electromagnetic stencil pen as a “vibrator.”)
Alberts’ description isn’t specific and can have referenced a variety of electromagnetic devices. But a grainy picture of Getchell’s machine inside a 1902 The Big Apple 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 in the tattoo shop of famous Norfolk, Virginia tattoo artist “Cap” Coleman which is now housed from the Tattoo Archive -settles any uncertainty over the matter. Getchell’s machine was absolutely of contemporary day build.
Evidently, Getchell was using this type of machine for a time. The 1902 New York Tribune article reported he had invented it “a variety of years” prior, inferably around the time O’Reilly brought charges against him. Perhaps even earlier. As noted, O’Reilly claimed Getchell had made and sold his machines “within the district of Massachusetts.” It’s quite likely that Getchell had invented the equipment involved 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 thus the reciprocating motion of the needle. More specifically, what type with the armature arranged together with the coils. Vibrating bell mechanisms were quite powerful, ingeniously streamlined constructions employed in various alarms, annunciators, indicators, and doorbells from the mid-1800s on. Whether it was really Getchell or somebody else, who again, made the intuitive leap of transforming a standalone electromagnetic mechanism right into a handheld device, the bell tattoo machine had irrefutably taken hold from the turn in the century. Several period photos have turned up depicting quite modern looking machines.
We may never be aware of precise date the 1st bell tattoo machine was created. But it’s possible their seemingly sudden popularity is linked with the emergence of mail order catalogs liable for bringing affordable technology to the door from the average citizen within the late 1800s. Sears Roebuck and lots of other retailers set the trend once they began offering a variety of merchandise through mail order; the assortment of electric bells (i.e. alarms, annunciators, and doorbells), batteries, wiring, et cetera could have provided a multiplicity of inspiration for tattoo artists.
Interestingly, the catalogs marketed certain types of bells (particularly doorbells) as outfits, due to insufficient electrical wiring in most homes and buildings. They consisted of a battery, wiring, and either a nickel or wood box encasing. There’s something to be 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 on a doorbell mechanism (UK 13,359). It also included the doorbell encasing).
However tinkering tattoo artists were unveiled in bells, the invention led how you can a whole new arena of innovation. With so much variety in bells along with the versatility of the movable parts, tattoo artists could experiment with countless inventive combinations, good to go to function upon an excpetionally reliable mechanism.
Bell mechanisms were typically mounted on a wood or metal base, so they could be held on a wall. Its not all, however, many, were also fitted within a frame that was created to keep working parts properly aligned in spite of the constant jarring in the bell. With minor modification a bell mechanism, specially those by using a frame, could possibly be pulled from the wood or metal base and converted 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 developed/modified bell mechanisms, with additional parts, for example the tube and/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 particular bell setup provided the framework of a tattoo machine style known today as a “classic single-upright” -a piece of equipment with an L-shaped frame, a vertical bar in one side and a short “shelf” extending in the back side.
Machines with left-side uprights are called left-handed machines. Machines with right-side uprights are called right-handed machines. (It offers nothing to do with regardless of if the tattoo artist is left-handed or right-handed).su4
It’s generally believed 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 obtain come along around or following the 1910s. However, as evidenced from the Getchell photo, right-handed tattoo machines were made at a significantly early date.
That’s its not all. The key reason why right-handed tattoo machines are thought to possess come later is because 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 about the right side as opposed to the left side). Mainly because it appears, bell frames with right side uprights existed alongside their left-sided counterparts. Though they have been rarer, they well could have provided the inspiration for right-handed tattoo machines.
There are actually too many bell-influenced adaptations to outline in the following paragraphs. But one prominent example will be the back return spring assembly modification which includes often been implemented in tattoo needle cartridge through the years. On bells -without or with a frame -this put in place is made up of lengthened armature, or perhaps extra steel pivoting piece, extended past the top back area of the armature. The armature or pivoting piece is steadied by two screws at a pivot point, then the return spring is attached on the backmost end and anchored to bolt below. In accordance with one catalog description, these bells produced “a powerful blow” ideal for a burglar alarm or railroad signal.
The setup on tattoo machines is similar, except a rubberband is oftentimes used as opposed to a return spring. Basically, a rubberband or return spring is linked to the top, backmost element of a lengthened armature and after that secured into a modified, lengthened post in the bottom end from the frame. Your back return spring essentially regulates tension and proper functioning, just like the back armature spring on modern tattoo machines. (An illustration of this Walter Cleveland’s c. 1920s to 1940s version of this particular machine can be seen from the Tattoo Archive’s web store here).
The pivoting armature-return spring create may have been first implemented in an early date. Notably, bells using the corresponding structure were sold by brands like Vallee Bros. and Stanley & Patterson and Company in the mid-to-late 1890s.
Charlie Wagner implemented a variation about this idea within his 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 appliance frame; the return spring was connected horizontally, between the bent down arm as well as the machine, instead of vertically.
The pivoting armature-return spring put in place actually goes back much further. It was actually a vital part of some of the early 1800s telegraph relay systems (though in telegraphs, the coils, armature, and return spring were positioned differently). To emphasize exactly how much overlap there is in invention, both W.G.A. Bonwill’s twin-coiled dental plugger patents (as well as the improved, manufactured model) employed variants of this setup. It shouldn’t come being a surprise. In fact, Bonwill was inspired with the telegraph.