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 Equipment. Unnamed others unquestionably played a role too. From the 1870s, electric handheld implements were, as of yet, novelties. When tradesman and practitioners began by using these tools inside a professional capacity, they encountered limitations. Efforts to solve shortcomings generated further discovery and innovation. When tattoo artists began modifying exactly the same electric devices with regard to their own purposes, it could have produced a completely new wave of findings.
At this point, the full range of machines offered to early tattooers isn’t known. But dental pluggers and Edison’s rotary pen (the only known Edison pen manufactured) were conceivably at the top of the list. In an 1898 New York City Sun interview, O’Reilly said he experimented with both before settling on his patent design. Together with his dental plugger machine, he claimed, he could tattoo someone across in just about 6 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 one after his idea, had it patented, and got a skilled mechanic to build the device.”
O’Reilly’s patent machine, in essence an Edison pen, was modified with the addition of an ink reservoir, accommodations for longer than one needle, as well as a specialized tube assembly system intended 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 with an eccentric (cam) working on top of the needle bar. But instead of a straight stylus, the tube encasing the needle bar (even the handle) was developed with two 90 degree angles, while the needle bar inside was segmented with pivots. This put in place allowed for any lever and fulcrum system that further acted on the budget in the needle bar and theoretically served to lengthen the stroke/throw from the needle.
Because it appears, the patent office didn’t consider O’Reilly’s “improvements” everything innovative. They denied his application at first. Not because his invention was too comparable to 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 exposure to the UK patent it would not have involved invention to include an ink reservoir for the Carey pen. (Carey’s patent already included specifications for a type 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 upon existing patents. But applicants ought to prove their creation is novel and distinct. This could be tricky and may be one reason a lot of the early tattoo artists didn’t patent their ideas -though for all we know a number of probably have tried and failed. (Unfortunately, all pre-1920s abandoned patent applications have already been destroyed).
According to 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 could have invented this sort of device, he didn’t patent it. A British patent isn’t on file. Much more likely, the tale has become confused over the years. Pat Brooklyn -in their interview with Tom Riley entitled Pictures on the epidermis -discusses one particular-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 designed by Mr. Riley and his 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 understand Riley wasn’t O’Reilly’s co-patentee, his claims with this interview were obviously embellished. After the story was printed though, it was actually probably handed down and muddied with every re-telling. It well might 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 initial British tattoo machine patent was actually issued to Sutherland MacDonald on December 29, 1894 (UK 3035) (note the similarity from the month and day with the alleged Riley patent). Sutherland’s machine was cylindrical shaped with all the needles moving through the core from the electromagnetic coils inside, quite similarly to several of the cylindrical shaped dental pluggers and perforating pens of your era.
Taking into consideration the problems O’Reilly encountered along with his patent, it’s possible he enlisted help. The patent process entails consulting trusted experts and O’Reilly himself acknowledged that the “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 Usa in 1872, Blake obtained numerous patents for his inventions, the first becoming a Three Headed Songstress illusion sponsored by Bunnell’s Dime Museum of brand 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 New York, 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 New York City, 1792-1906. “40 South” was the spot of Edwin Thomas’ tattoo shop before he was imprisoned for shooting his ex-girlfriend in 1890.
Not simply 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 being a witness on Blake’s naturalization application.
Although we can’t be sure that Blake was in the development of O’Reilly’s invention, it’s striking that a great many 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 some electromagnetic contact devices.
Increasing intrigue, Blake was connected with John Williams, the dime show tattooer who claimed both he and O’Reilly discovered a “new method” of tattooing several years earlier. Both had headlined together within both Boston and Ny dime museums before Williams left for England.
Regardless of the link with one of 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 led to the progress of tattoo machines. And, he certainly deserves the accolades for his efforts, specifically being the first one to obtain a patent. But there’s some question as to if he ever manufactured his invention -with a massive anyway -or whether or not it is at wide spread use at any point.
In 1893, just two years once the patent is at place, tattoo artist and vaudeville actor Arthur Birchman claimed he owned a couple of O’Reilly’s machines, but because he told the entire world newspaper reporter there are only “…four on the planet, one other two staying in the possession of Prof. O’Reilly…”
O’Reilly’s comments inside an 1898 New York City Sun interview are equally curious. He said that he had marketed a “smaller form of machine” with a “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) he had constructed more than one kind of machine between 1891 and 1898, and (3) the patent wasn’t the most preferred tattooing device for the duration of the 1800s.
The overall implication is the fact that O’Reilly (as well as other tattoo artists) continued trying out different machines and modifications, even with the patent was issued.
Media reports aren’t always reliable, needless to say. And, we’re definitely missing items of the puzzle. But there’s more. Additional evidence corroborates the use of a variety of needle cartridge throughout this era. Thus far, neither a working instance of O’Reilly’s patent model, nor a picture of a single has surfaced. But a straight-handled adaptation in the Edison pen is depicted in a number of media photos. For many years, this machine is a huge source of confusion. The obvious stumper may be the missing crooked tube assembly. Ironically, the lack of this feature is a clue in itself. It indicates there was clearly a different way to render the Edison pen operable for tattooing.
Anyone acquainted with rotary driven machines -for any sort -understands 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 on a tattoo machine). Cams come in varied shapes and forms. An apt sized/shaped cam is very important to precise control and timing of your machine, and in case damaged or changed, can alter the way a device operates. How is it possible, then, that simply altering the cam on Edison’s rotary pen may make it functional for tattooing? Each of the evidence shows that it absolutely was a serious part of the solution.
Thomas Edison paid special focus on the cam mechanism on his 1876 rotary pen. The cam was enclosed in a nook near the top of the needle-bar, where the needle bar met the rotating shaft (axis). The rotating shaft (axis) was positioned throughout the direct center of your cam as well as the flywheel. As the fly wheel revolved, and turned the rotating shaft, the cam turned by using it, inducing the needle-bar (follower) to advance up and down.
From the text of his 1875 British patent (UK 3762), Edison noted the cam on his rotary pens might have “one or higher arms” acting upon the needle bar. Annually later, when he patented the rotary pen from the U.S. (US Patent 180,857), he specified that he’d chosen to implement a 3 pointed-cam (three-armed or triangle-shaped cam), because it gave three up and down motions on 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 you may know, it didn’t work with tattooing. In O’Reilly’s words, it had been too “weak” -the stroke/throw in the machine wasn’t of sufficient length -and wasn’t designed for getting ink in to the skin.
Contemporary rotary tattoo machines also greatly rely on cam mechanics, but they’re fitted with a round shaped “eccentric cam” having an off-centered pin as opposed to an armed cam. Most of today’s rotary machines are constructed to suit a number of different sized eccentric cams, which adjust the machine’s throw, so you can use it 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 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 required to outline the cam or cam mechanism on his patent application. Keep in mind, however, how the cam on O’Reilly’s accompanying diagram is conspicuously diamond-shaped instead of three-pointed as on Edison’s rotary. Additionally, it appears to be of larger proportion. If O’Reilly’s diagram is true-to-life, it suggests he was aware for some degree that changing the cam would affect how the machine operated. Why, then, did he go 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 in the Edison pen. It’s just like possible the modified tube assembly was meant to create the machine much more functional beyond a fitting cam. Frustratingly, we’ll probably never know. No matter what the case, it seems that at some point someone (even perhaps O’Reilly) did discover a cam (or multiple cams) that worked sufficiently enough for tattooing.
Quite pertinently, each year along with a half right after the 1891 patent was in place -in July of 1893 -the Boston Herald published an article about Captain Fred McKay of Boston, and distinctly described his tattoo machine for an “Edison electric pen” by using a “larger eccentric” to “give the needle more play;” he used this kind of machine both for outlining (with one needle) and shading (with seven needles).
Ever since 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 tough to explain why the Boston Herald reporter would have singled out the altered cam, a compact tucked away feature, more than a large outward modification such as a re-configured tube assembly. Besides, all evidence shows that altering the cam had been a feasible adaptation; the one that also makes up about the presence of straight-handled Edison pen-tattoo machines. (See postscripts 1 & 2)
Did early tattooers use a variety of different size cams to adjust the throw in the Edison pen? Were additional modifications required? Also, would the cam solution are already more or less effective than O’Reilly’s tube assembly system? And which came first? Who is able to say. A very important factor is definite progression in technology requires ongoing trials -constant tinkering, testing, and sharing of information. Patents are just one element of the method.
O’Reilly’s patent innovations were important and surely resulted in additional experimentation and discoveries. At the same time, there will need to have been numerous un-patented inventions. It makes sense that there were multiple adaptations from the Edison pen (Inside 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, affected by perforating devices, dental drills, engravers, sewing machines, telegraphs, telephones, and a lot of various other devices; some we’ve never seen or read about and several that worked better than others.
While care needs to be taken with media reports, the consistent utilization of the word “hammer” from the article invokes something apart from an Edison pen; a dental plugger aka dental hammer is really what comes to mind. (A trip hammer’s pivoting hammer arm shares an uncanny resemblance with all the like part on the dental plugger). That O’Reilly could have been tattooing having a dental plugger even with his patent is at place is not really so farfetched. The unit he’s holding within the image seen in this 1901 article looks suspiciously such as a dental plugger.
Yet another report inside an 1897 Nebraska Journal article, described O’Reilly outlining tattoos by using a “stylus using a small battery about the end,” and setting up color with a similar, but smaller, machine using more needles. The content fails to specify what forms of machines they were, although the word “stylus” implies a straight-handled device. Also, the fact that they differed in size, indicates they probably weren’t Edison pens, which as far as we all know arrived in one standard size.
A similar article goes on to explain O’Reilly’s shading machine, which operated by clockwork rather than electricity. It had fifty needles and was “actuated with 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 looks similar to other perforator pens from 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 which is said to have been modified for tattooing.
1899 Ev’ry Month Magazine. Another unique machine appears inside an 1899 Ev’ry Month Magazine article about O’Reilly, England’s Sutherland McDonald, and Japan’s Hori Chiyo. This writer from the article, however, didn’t offer specifics on this device.
Another unique machine appears inside an October 1899 Ev’ry Month Magazine article about O’Reilly, England’s Sutherland McDonald, and Japan’s Hori Chiyo. The author in the article, however, didn’t offer specifics for 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 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.
In the Spanish American war Getchell partnered with O’Reilly in his Ny Bowery shop at 5 Chatham Square. Ultimately, they had a falling out. Based on documents of the U.S. District Court for that Southern District of New York, in April of 1899, O’Reilly filed charges against Getchell, claiming which he had infringed on his patent by selling machines made based on the patent “within the district of Massachusetts and elsewhere,” and this he was “threatening to produce the aforesaid tattooing machines in big amounts, and to provide the market therewith and to sell the same…” Getchell then hired an attorney and moved to a different 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 portion of the said alleged invention [patent].” He further proclaimed that O’Reilly didn’t make use of the patent machine, since it was “impractical, inoperative, and wholly useless.” Most significantly, he maintained that this reasons for O’Reilly’s machines was, in reality, designed by Thomas Edison.
The past a part of Getchell’s argument held particular weight. As he had likely borrowed ideas from other 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 done with his patent. As an aside, Getchell called upon patent expert Octavius Knight to testify within the case. Court documents usually do not specify whether Knight ever took the stand, but in regards to the time he was likely 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 device he was currently using, and Exhibit C, a device he’d supposedly invented in prior years. Unfortunately, neither is illustrated in almost any detail. Tattoo artist Lew Alberts (1880-1954) described Getchell’s invention like a “vibrator” in the 1926 interview together with the Winston-Salem Journal, that he differentiated from O’Reilly’s “electric needle.” The word “vibrator” infers that Getchell’s machine operated through a vibrating electromagnetic motor. (Edison referenced his electromagnetic stencil pen like a “vibrator.”)
Alberts’ description isn’t specific and may have referred to several electromagnetic devices. But a grainy picture of Getchell’s machine inside a 1902 New York City Tribune article looks like a current day tattoo machine, including an L-shaped frame and dual front-to-back (in accordance with the frame) electromagnetic coils.
A clearer duplicate on 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 on the matter. Getchell’s machine was absolutely of modern day build.
Evidently, Getchell ended up being using this kind of machine for some time. The 1902 New York City Tribune article reported that he had invented it “a number 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 equipment involved before he permanently left his hometown of Boston, Massachusetts in 1897.
It’s well-established that modern tattoo machines are based on vibrating bell mechanisms -operated by two electromagnetic coils, which actuate the vibrating motion of any armature and hence the reciprocating motion of the needle. Specifically, what type with the armature lined up with the coils. Vibrating bell mechanisms were quite powerful, ingeniously streamlined constructions found in various types of alarms, annunciators, indicators, and doorbells through the mid-1800s on. Whether it was really Getchell or other people, 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 by the turn in the century. Numerous period photos have turned up depicting quite modern looking machines.
We may never know the precise date the initial bell tattoo machine was developed. But it’s possible their seemingly sudden popularity is connected with the emergence of mail order catalogs in charge of bringing affordable technology to the door of your average citizen in the late 1800s. Sears Roebuck and lots of other retailers set the trend when they began offering a wide array of merchandise through mail order; the assortment 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 types of bells (particularly doorbells) as outfits, because of lack 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 become 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). Additionally, it included the doorbell encasing).
However tinkering tattoo artists were unveiled in bells, the discovery led the way to a new arena of innovation. With so much variety in bells and the versatility in their movable parts, tattoo artists could test out countless inventive combinations, good to go to operate on an excpetionally reliable mechanism.
Bell mechanisms were typically placed on a wood or metal base, so they are often hung on a wall. Not all, however, some, were also fitted inside a frame that was meant to keep working parts properly aligned inspite of the constant jarring from the bell. With minor modification a bell mechanism, especially those by using a frame, may be taken 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 normal consensus is that the earliest bell tattoo machines were developed/modified bell mechanisms, with a lot more parts, like the tube 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.
A single bell create provided the framework of the tattoo machine style known today like a “classic single-upright” -a machine with an L-shaped frame, an upright bar on one side plus a short “shelf” extending in the back side.
Machines with left-side uprights are known as left-handed machines. Machines with right-side uprights are referred to as right-handed machines. (It provides 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 viewed to obtain come along around or after the 1910s. However, as evidenced by the Getchell photo, right-handed tattoo machines were made at the significantly early date.
That’s not every. The main reason right-handed tattoo machines are believed to obtain come later is because they are thought of as spin-offs of left-handed machines, the assumption being that this 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 turns out, 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.
You can find far too many bell-influenced adaptations to outline in this article. But one prominent example will be the back return spring assembly modification that has often been implemented in tattoo needle cartridge through the years. On bells -with or without a frame -this setup includes a lengthened armature, or an extra steel pivoting piece, extended past the top back area of the armature. The armature or pivoting piece is steadied by two screws in a pivot point, then this return spring is attached at the backmost end and anchored to bolt below. In accordance with one catalog description, these bells produced “a powerful blow” perfect for a burglar alarm or railroad signal.
The setup on tattoo machines is similar, except a rubberband is sometimes used rather than a return spring. Basically, a rubberband or return spring is attached to the top, backmost component of a lengthened armature then secured into a modified, lengthened post in the bottom end in the frame. The rear return spring essentially regulates tension and proper functioning, exactly like your back armature spring on modern tattoo machines. (A good example of Walter Cleveland’s c. 1920s to 1940s version of this sort of machine is seen inside the Tattoo Archive’s online shop here).
The pivoting armature-return spring set up might have been first implemented in an early date. Notably, bells with all 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 their 1904 patent machine (US Patent 768,413). His version contained a long pivoting piece connected to the armature 20dexmpky bent downward in a 90 degree angle off the rear of the appliance frame; the return spring was connected horizontally, in between the bent down arm and also the machine, rather than vertically.
The pivoting armature-return spring create actually goes back much further. It absolutely was an essential aspect of a few of the early 1800s telegraph relay systems (though in telegraphs, the coils, armature, and return spring were positioned differently). To emphasize how much overlap there exists in invention, both of W.G.A. Bonwill’s twin-coiled dental plugger patents (as well as the improved, manufactured model) employed variants of this set up. It shouldn’t come like a surprise. In the end, Bonwill was inspired from the telegraph.