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Weird That Thomas Edison Kind Of Invented The Tattoo Gun, No?

27/12/2016 5:54 AM AEDT | Updated 27/12/2016 9:25 AM AEDT
New York Historical Society
Thomas Edison, Electric pen, 1876. Nickel-plated flywheel, cast iron, steel stylus, and electric motor. Collection of Brad Fink, Daredevil Tattoo NYC

Thomas Edison is often billed as America’s greatest inventor. While the title is normally discussed in reference to things like the electric light bulb and motion picture camera, we’d like to humbly add the tattoo gun to the list.

You see, it was Thomas Edison’s 1876 discovery of the electric pen, the terrifying-looking device above, that was the inspiration for the original electric tattoo machine.

Originally, Edison’s device was meant to create multiple copies of a single image or text by passing over a stencil with an inked roller, which moved at 50 punctures per second, transferring the stencil’s contents to a sheet of paper below. 

As a writing implement, the electric pen was a flop. But it caught the eye of a New York tattoo artist named Samuel F. O’Reilly, who, in 1891, created the first electric tattoo needle based on Edison’s prototype. The device increased the speed and accuracy of a process that had long been done by hand. 

New York Historical Society
Samuel O’Reilly, "Eagle and shield," ca. 1875–1905. Watercolor, ink, and pencil on paper. Collection of Lift Trucks Project

So, basically, brilliant inventor Thomas Edison is the reason your ink looks so damn fly. Maybe that fun fact will come in handy when convincing your parents that your dream tattoo is in fact the product of a genius, historic American invention. You are simply doing your part to pay tribute to an American hero, is that so wrong? 

An original model of Edison’s electric pen is coming to the New York Historical Society in February, as part of an exhibition on the history of tattoo culture in New York City. The exhibit also includes painfully cool photos collected from the 300 year history of permanent body art, definitely disproving your family’s theory that tattoos are just a trend. 

Tattooed New York” will be on view from February 3, 2017 until April 30, 2017 at the New York Historical Society.

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