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 creation of Tattoo Supply. Unnamed others unquestionably played a role as well. Inside the 1870s, electric handheld implements were, since 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 the same electric devices for their own purposes, it might have produced another wave of findings.
At this stage, the complete array of machines available to early tattooers isn’t known. But dental pluggers and Edison’s rotary pen (the only real known Edison pen manufactured) were conceivably on top of the list. In a 1898 New York 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 somebody around in just six weeks. But there was clearly 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 one after his idea, had it patented, and got an experienced mechanic to build the appliance.”
O’Reilly’s patent machine, in essence an Edison pen, was modified with the help 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. 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 rather than a straight stylus, the tube encasing the needle bar (also the handle) was made with two 90 degree angles, as the needle bar inside was segmented with pivots. This setup allowed for the lever and fulcrum system that further acted about the budget of the needle bar and theoretically served to lengthen the stroke/throw in the needle.
Since it turns out, the patent office didn’t consider O’Reilly’s “improvements” everything that innovative. They denied his application in the beginning. Not because his invention was too just like Edison’s 1876 rotary device, but mainly because it bore likenesses to Augustus C. Carey’s 1884 autographic pen patent (US Patent 304,613). They denied it an additional 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 united kingdom patent it would not have involved invention to provide an ink reservoir towards the Carey pen. (Carey’s patent already included specifications for a kind of ink duct).
Because of the crossover in invention, O’Reilly needed to revise his claims a few times 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 is often tricky and may be one reason a lot of early tattoo artists didn’t patent their ideas -though for all those we know a number of might have tried and failed. (Unfortunately, all pre-1920s abandoned patent applications are already destroyed).
In accordance with 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 such a device, he didn’t patent it. A British patent isn’t on file. More likely, the history has been confused over the years. Pat Brooklyn -within his 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 with this machine in any way. What he does inform is 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, though it has since had several alterations and improvements intended to it.”
Since we know Riley wasn’t O’Reilly’s co-patentee, his claims in this interview were obviously embellished. When the story was printed though, it absolutely was probably handed down and muddied with each re-telling. It adequately may 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 actually issued to Sutherland MacDonald on December 29, 1894 (UK 3035) (note the similarity from 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 your electromagnetic coils inside, quite similarly to a number of the cylindrical shaped dental pluggers and perforating pens in the era.
With the problems O’Reilly encountered regarding 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 inside the U.S. in 1872, Blake obtained numerous patents for his inventions, the first as 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 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 Local Courts in New York, 1792-1906. “40 South” was the place of Edwin Thomas’ tattoo shop before he was imprisoned for shooting his ex-girlfriend in 1890.
Not merely did Blake’s patent lawyers (John Van Santvoord and William Hauff) submit O’Reilly’s initial patent claim in July of 1891, but also, in October, not a long time after his patent claims were first denied, O’Reilly signed being a witness on Blake’s naturalization application.
Although we can’t make certain that Blake was active in the growth of O’Reilly’s invention, it’s striking that a great many of his inventions operated via pivots, levers, and fulcrums, very much like O’Reilly’s tube assembly. Also, in the years just following O’Reilly’s patent Blake began patenting several 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 many years earlier. The two had headlined together both in Boston and New York dime museums before Williams left for England.
No matter what link with these other men, O’Reilly supports the patent. Today, his invention is upheld since the ultimate tattoo machine of their day. As being the product of dedicated trials, O’Reilly’s patent machine significantly contributed to the growth of tattoo machines. And, he certainly deserves the accolades for his efforts, specifically being the first to get yourself a patent. But there’s some question as to whether he ever manufactured his invention -with a large anyway -or if it is in wide spread use at any point.
In 1893, just two years following the patent is in place, tattoo artist and vaudeville actor Arthur Birchman claimed he owned a pair of O’Reilly’s machines, but while he told the entire world newspaper reporter there were only “…four worldwide, the other two getting into the possession of Prof. O’Reilly…”
O’Reilly’s comments in an 1898 New York City Sun interview are equally curious. He explained he had marketed a “smaller kind of machine” over a “small scale,” but had only ever sold two or three of people “he uses himself.”
These snippets infer: (1) that O’Reilly didn’t necessarily produce a large quantity of the patent machines (2) that he had constructed several type of machine between 1891 and 1898, and (3) the patent wasn’t the favorite tattooing device for the duration of the 1800s.
The entire implication is the fact that O’Reilly (and other tattoo artists) continued experimenting with different machines and modifications, even though the patent was issued.
Media reports aren’t always reliable, of course. And, we’re definitely missing items of the puzzle. But there’s more. Additional evidence corroborates the use of a variety of tattoo needle cartridge within this era. Thus far, neither a working example of O’Reilly’s patent model, nor an image of one has surfaced. But a straight-handled adaptation of the Edison pen is depicted in several media photos. For a long time, this machine has become a supply of confusion. The most obvious stumper is the missing crooked tube assembly. Ironically, the lack of this feature is actually a clue in itself. It indicates there is a different way to render the Edison pen operable for tattooing.
Anyone acquainted with rotary driven machines -for any sort -knows that proper functioning is contingent with the cam mechanism. The cam can be 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 the tattoo machine). Cams may be found in varied styles and sizes. An apt sized/shaped cam is crucial to precise control and timing of a machine, and when damaged or changed, can change the way a machine operates. Is it possible, then, that simply altering the cam on Edison’s rotary pen might make it functional for tattooing? Every one of the evidence shows that it had been a serious portion of the solution.
Thomas Edison paid special focus to 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 of your cam and the flywheel. Since the fly wheel revolved, and turned the rotating shaft, the cam turned along with it, creating the needle-bar (follower) to maneuver all around.
From the text of his 1875 British patent (UK 3762), Edison noted that the cam on his rotary pens could have “one or more arms” acting upon the needle bar. A year later, as he patented the rotary pen in 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), as it gave three up and down motions towards the needle per revolution, and thus more perforations per revolution. Perhaps, after a little experimentation, Edison determined this specific cam shape best-produced the rapid movement required of his stencil pen. As we know, it didn’t help tattooing. In O’Reilly’s words, it was too “weak” -the stroke/throw in the machine wasn’t of sufficient length -and wasn’t designed for getting ink into the skin.
Contemporary rotary tattoo machines also greatly rely on cam mechanics, but they’re fitted with a round shaped “eccentric cam” by having an off-centered pin as an alternative to an armed cam. Most 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 tend to be used interchangeably).
Did O’Reilly know about the purpose of the cam? Unfortunately, since O’Reilly’s foremost invention claims were the custom tube assembly and adding an ink reservoir, he wasn’t needed to outline the cam or cam mechanism on his patent application. Keep in mind, however, that this cam on O’Reilly’s accompanying diagram is conspicuously diamond-shaped rather than three-pointed as on Edison’s rotary. Additionally, it appears to be of larger proportion. If O’Reilly’s diagram is valid-to-life, it suggests he was aware to a few degree that changing the cam would affect exactly 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 your Edison pen. It’s just as possible the modified tube assembly was intended to have the machine even more functional far above a fitting cam. Frustratingly, we’ll probably never know. No matter what the case, apparently at some time someone (even perhaps O’Reilly) did locate a cam (or multiple cams) that worked sufficiently enough for tattooing.
Quite pertinently, per year along with a half following the 1891 patent is at place -in July of 1893 -the Boston Herald published articles about Captain Fred McKay of Boston, and distinctly described his tattoo machine for an “Edison electric pen” using a “larger eccentric” to “give the needle more play;” he used this kind of machine for both outlining (with one needle) and shading (with seven needles).
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 might have singled out the altered cam, a small tucked away feature, more than 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 that also makes up about the presence of straight-handled Edison pen-tattoo machines. (See postscripts 1 & 2)
Did early tattooers use many different different size cams to regulate the throw on 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? Who is able to say. One thing is definite progression in technology requires ongoing trials -constant tinkering, testing, and sharing of knowledge. Patents are only one facet of the method.
O’Reilly’s patent innovations were important and surely resulted in additional experimentation and discoveries. As well, there will need to have been numerous un-patented inventions. It makes sense that there were multiple adaptations in the Edison pen (Within a 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 no doubt 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 read about and a few that worked a lot better than others.
While care needs to be taken with media reports, the consistent utilization of the word “hammer” within the article invokes something apart from an Edison pen; a dental plugger aka dental hammer is exactly what comes to mind. (A getaway hammer’s pivoting hammer arm shares an uncanny resemblance with all the like part with a dental plugger). That O’Reilly might have been tattooing by using a dental plugger even though his patent is at place will not be so farfetched. The product he’s holding in the image seen in this 1901 article looks suspiciously such as a dental plugger.
An additional report in a 1897 Nebraska Journal article, described O’Reilly outlining tattoos by using a “stylus having a small battery around the end,” and putting in color having a similar, but smaller, machine using more needles. This content fails to specify what sorts of machines these were, though the word “stylus” implies a straight-handled device. Also, the truth that they differed in proportion, indicates they probably weren’t Edison pens, which in terms of we all know came in one standard size.
A similar article proceeds to explain O’Reilly’s shading machine, which operated by clockwork as opposed to electricity. It had fifty needles and was “actuated from a heavy [clockwork] spring.” This machine could be the one depicted inside a September 11, 1898 Chicago Tribune illustration of O’Reilly tattooing dogs. It appears just like other perforator pens of your 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 possessed a find yourself mechanism similar to a clock which is thought to have been 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 author in 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 writer of 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 in the modern day electric tattoo machine.
Throughout the Spanish American war Getchell partnered with O’Reilly in the New York City Bowery shop at 5 Chatham Square. Ultimately, that they had a falling out. Based on documents of your U.S. District Court to the Southern District of the latest York, in April of 1899, O’Reilly filed charges against Getchell, claiming he had infringed on his patent by selling machines made according to the patent “within the district of Massachusetts and elsewhere,” and this he was “threatening to make the aforesaid tattooing machines in big amounts, and also to give you the market therewith as well as to sell the same…” Getchell then hired a legal representative and moved to a new 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 area 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 the basis of O’Reilly’s machines was, in reality, designed by Thomas Edison.
The past part of Getchell’s argument held particular weight. When he had likely borrowed ideas using their company devices to generate his machine, even O’Reilly’s (i.e. an ink reservoir), he only were required to demonstrate the novelty of his invention, in the same way O’Reilly had completed with his patent. As an aside, Getchell called upon patent expert Octavius Knight to testify from the case. Court documents do not specify whether Knight ever took the stand, but concerning the time he was likely to appear, the truth was dropped.
So what exactly was Getchell’s invention? Court papers talk about two of Getchell’s machines, Exhibit A, the device he was currently using, and Exhibit C, a unit he’d supposedly invented in prior years. Unfortunately, neither is illustrated in every 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 expression “vibrator” infers that Getchell’s machine operated through a vibrating electromagnetic motor. (Edison referred to his electromagnetic stencil pen as a “vibrator.”)
Alberts’ description isn’t specific and might have described numerous electromagnetic devices. But a grainy picture of Getchell’s machine in the 1902 Ny Tribune article looks just like a current day tattoo machine, filled 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 within the tattoo shop of famous Norfolk, Virginia tattoo artist “Cap” Coleman and it is now housed in the Tattoo Archive -settles any uncertainty on the matter. Getchell’s machine was absolutely of recent day build.
Evidently, Getchell was using this type of machine for a while. The 1902 New York Tribune article reported that he had invented it “a variety 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 likely that Getchell had invented the machine 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 of your needle. More specifically, what type with the armature lined up with all the coils. Vibrating bell mechanisms were quite powerful, ingeniously streamlined constructions found in various alarms, annunciators, indicators, and doorbells from the mid-1800s on. Whether or not this was really Getchell or another person, who once more, made the intuitive leap of transforming a standalone electromagnetic mechanism in a handheld device, the bell tattoo machine had irrefutably taken hold with the turn from the century. A number of period photos have turned up depicting quite modern looking machines.
We might never understand the precise date the first bell tattoo machine is made. But it’s possible their seemingly sudden popularity is linked with the emergence of mail order catalogs liable for bringing affordable technology towards the door of your average citizen in the late 1800s. Sears Roebuck and lots of other retailers set the buzz once they began offering an array of merchandise through mail order; the variety 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, as a result of deficiency of electrical wiring generally in most homes and buildings. They consisted of a battery, wiring, and either a nickel or wood box encasing. There’s something being said for the point that tattoo machines were also later sold as “outfits,” detailed 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). Furthermore, it included the doorbell encasing).
However tinkering tattoo artists were brought to bells, the discovery led the best way to a new realm of innovation. With much variety in bells and also the versatility of the movable parts, tattoo artists could try out countless inventive combinations, ready to function upon an excpetionally reliable mechanism.
Bell mechanisms were typically attached to a wood or metal base, so they could be hung on a wall. Not all, however, many, were also fitted in the frame that had been designed to keep working parts properly aligned regardless of the constant jarring in the bell. With minor modification a bell mechanism, particularly those having a frame, could possibly be removed from the wood or metal base and converted into a tattoo machine; i.e. adding a needle bar, tube, plus a tube holder (vice) of some type.
The typical consensus is that the earliest bell tattoo machines were established/modified bell mechanisms, with a lot more parts, like 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.
A single bell put in place provided the framework of your tattoo machine style known today as a “classic single-upright” -a unit having an L-shaped frame, a vertical bar on one side plus a short “shelf” extending from the back side.
Machines with left-side uprights are called left-handed machines. Machines with right-side uprights are referred to as right-handed machines. (It provides nothing related to regardless of if the tattoo artist is left-handed or right-handed).su4
It’s generally considered that left-handed machines came first, since the frame is similar to typical bell frames of your era. Right-handed machines, which eventually won out over left-handed machines, are thought to possess come along around or after the 1910s. However, as evidenced by the Getchell photo, right-handed tattoo machines were made at a significantly early date.
That’s not every. The key reason why right-handed tattoo machines are thought to possess come later is because they are considered spin-offs of left-handed machines, the assumption being 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). Since it ends up, bell frames with right side uprights existed alongside their left-sided counterparts. Though they appear to have been rarer, they well might have provided the inspiration for right-handed tattoo machines.
You can find too many bell-influenced adaptations to outline in this post. But one prominent example will be the back return spring assembly modification which has often been implemented in tattoo needle cartridge over time. On bells -with or without a frame -this create is made up of lengthened armature, or an extra steel pivoting piece, extended beyond the top back section of the armature. The armature or pivoting piece is steadied by two screws at a pivot point, then a 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” excellent for an alarm or railroad signal.
The set up on tattoo machines is similar, except a rubberband might be used as opposed to a return spring. Basically, a rubberband or return spring is linked to the top, backmost component of a lengthened armature then secured to a modified, lengthened post in the bottom end of the frame. Your back return spring essentially regulates tension and proper functioning, exactly like the rear armature spring on modern tattoo machines. (An illustration of this Walter Cleveland’s c. 1920s to 1940s version of this sort of machine is seen from the Tattoo Archive’s online shop here).
The pivoting armature-return spring setup could have been first implemented in an early date. Notably, bells together with 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 their 1904 patent machine (US Patent 768,413). His version consisted of a lengthy pivoting piece connected to the armature 20dexmpky bent downward with a 90 degree angle off the rear of the device frame; the return spring was connected horizontally, in between the bent down arm along with the machine, rather than vertically.
The pivoting armature-return spring setup actually dates back much further. It absolutely was an essential element 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 is certainly in invention, both W.G.A. Bonwill’s twin-coiled dental plugger patents (along with the improved, manufactured model) employed variants of the setup. It shouldn’t come like a surprise. In fact, Bonwill was inspired through the telegraph.