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 creation of Tattoo Equipment. Unnamed others unquestionably played a role also. Within the 1870s, electric handheld implements were, by yet, novelties. When tradesman and practitioners began with such tools inside a professional capacity, they encountered limitations. Efforts to solve shortcomings led to further discovery and innovation. When tattoo artists began modifying a similar electric devices for their own purposes, it might have produced another wave of findings.
At this moment, the total variety of machines available to early tattooers isn’t known. But dental pluggers and Edison’s rotary pen (really the only known Edison pen manufactured) were conceivably near the top of a list. Within an 1898 Ny 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 around in just six 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 one after his own idea, had it patented, and got a qualified mechanic to construct the equipment.”
O’Reilly’s patent machine, essentially an Edison pen, was modified by adding 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. Much like the original Edison pen, the reciprocating action of O’Reilly’s machine, was actuated by using an eccentric (cam) working on top of the needle bar. But instead of 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 put in place allowed for the 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.
As it turns out, the patent office didn’t consider O’Reilly’s “improvements” everything innovative. They denied his application at the beginning. Not because his invention was too just like Edison’s 1876 rotary device, but since it bore likenesses to Augustus C. Carey’s 1884 autographic pen patent (US Patent 304,613). They denied it a second time citing British patent UK 3332 (William Henry Abbott’s sewing machine patent), perhaps owed to its reciprocating needle assembly. Rejection notes clarify that in connection with the UK patent it would not have involved invention to incorporate an ink reservoir on the Carey pen. (Carey’s patent already included specifications for a variety of ink duct).
As a result of crossover in invention, O’Reilly needed to revise his claims many times before his patent was granted. This actually happened frequently. Patent law permits inventions according to existing patents. But applicants need to prove their creation is novel and distinct. This may be tricky and may also be one reason a lot of early tattoo artists didn’t patent their ideas -though for all we understand a number of might 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 inside the Usa, England’s Tom Riley allegedly obtained a British patent to get a single-coil machine. However, while Riley could possibly have invented this sort of device, he didn’t patent it. A British patent isn’t on file. Very likely, the history has become confused throughout the years. Pat Brooklyn -in the interview with Tom Riley entitled Pictures on the Skin -discusses an individual-coil machine Riley was tattooing within 1903, but doesn’t mention a patent with this machine whatsoever. What he does inform could this be: “The electric-needle was invented by Mr. Riley and his cousin, Mr. S.F. O’Riley [sic]…and was patented by them on December 8, 1891, even though it has since had several alterations and improvements created to it.”
Since we realize Riley wasn’t O’Reilly’s co-patentee, his claims in this particular interview were obviously embellished. After the story was printed though, it had been probably passed on and muddied with every re-telling. It well could have inspired the comments in George Burchett’s Memoirs of your 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 the month and day together with the alleged Riley patent). Sutherland’s machine was cylindrical shaped with the needles moving throughout the core from the electromagnetic coils inside, quite similarly to a number of the cylindrical shaped dental pluggers and perforating pens in the era.
Considering 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 which a “skilled mechanic” built his patent model. This might have been the machinist, inventor, and mechanical illusionist from England, named John Feggetter Blake, or “Professor Feggetter” to dime museum audiences. After arriving within the U.S. in 1872, Blake obtained numerous patents for his inventions, the initial being a Three Headed Songstress illusion sponsored by Bunnell’s Dime Museum of brand new York. And, he was accustomed to 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 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 New York City, 1792-1906. “40 South” was the area 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 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 involved in the growth and 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, within the years just following O’Reilly’s patent Blake began patenting several 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 Boston and New York City dime museums before Williams left for England.
Regardless of the link by using these other men, O’Reilly supports the patent. Today, his invention is upheld as being the ultimate tattoo machine from the day. As the product of dedicated trials, O’Reilly’s patent machine significantly led to the progression of tattoo machines. And, he certainly deserves the accolades for his efforts, specifically for being the first to obtain a patent. But there’s some question as to if he ever manufactured his invention -on the massive anyway -or if it is at wide spread use at any given point.
In 1893, just 2 years after the patent was in place, tattoo artist and vaudeville actor Arthur Birchman claimed he owned two of O’Reilly’s machines, but since he told the entire world newspaper reporter there have been only “…four on earth, the other two staying in the possession of Prof. O’Reilly…”
O’Reilly’s comments inside an 1898 New York Sun interview are equally curious. He stated that he or she had marketed a “smaller form of machine” on a “small scale,” but had only ever sold 2 or 3 of these “he uses himself.”
These snippets infer: (1) that O’Reilly didn’t necessarily develop a large volume of the patent machines (2) he had constructed more than one type of machine between 1891 and 1898, and (3) that this patent wasn’t the most preferred tattooing device all through the 1800s.
The overall implication is that O’Reilly (as well as other tattoo artists) continued testing different machines and modifications, despite the patent was issued.
Media reports aren’t always reliable, obviously. And, we’re definitely missing components of the puzzle. But there’s more. Additional evidence corroborates using a number of tattoo needle cartridge in this era. So far, neither a working instance of O’Reilly’s patent model, nor a photo of one has surfaced. But a straight-handled adaptation in the Edison pen is depicted in several media photos. For a long time, this machine has been a way to obtain confusion. The obvious stumper is definitely the missing crooked tube assembly. Ironically, the absence of this feature is actually a clue in itself. It indicates there is an alternate way to render the Edison pen operable for tattooing.
Anyone knowledgeable about rotary driven machines -associated with a sort -recognizes that proper functioning is contingent together with the cam mechanism. The cam is really 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 with a tattoo machine). Cams may be found in varied sizes and shapes. An apt sized/shaped cam is crucial to precise control and timing of a machine, and when damaged or changed, can modify the way a unit operates. How is it possible, then, that only altering the cam on Edison’s rotary pen might make it functional for tattooing? All the evidence suggests that it was a serious area of the solution.
Thomas Edison paid special focus on the cam mechanism on his 1876 rotary pen. The cam was enclosed within a nook near the top of the needle-bar, where needle bar met the rotating shaft (axis). The rotating shaft (axis) was positioned throughout the direct center of the cam along with the flywheel. Since the fly wheel revolved, and turned the rotating shaft, the cam turned with it, resulting in the needle-bar (follower) to maneuver all around.
Within the text of his 1875 British patent (UK 3762), Edison noted how the cam on his rotary pens may have “one or even more arms” acting upon the needle bar. Per year later, when he patented the rotary pen within the Usa (US Patent 180,857), he specified that he’d chosen to implement a three pointed-cam (three-armed or triangle-shaped cam), because it gave three up and down motions towards the needle per revolution, and so 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 help tattooing. In O’Reilly’s words, it had been too “weak” -the stroke/throw in the machine wasn’t long enough -and wasn’t suited for getting ink into the skin.
Contemporary rotary tattoo machines also greatly depend on cam mechanics, but they’re fitted having a round shaped “eccentric cam” with the off-centered pin as opposed to 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 purpose of the cam? Unfortunately, since O’Reilly’s foremost invention claims were the custom tube assembly and incorporating an ink reservoir, he wasn’t required to outline the cam or cam mechanism on his patent application. Take note, however, that the cam on O’Reilly’s accompanying diagram is conspicuously diamond-shaped as an alternative to three-pointed as on Edison’s rotary. Additionally, it seems to be of larger proportion. If O’Reilly’s diagram is true-to-life, it suggests he was aware to many degree that changing the cam would affect the way the machine operated. Why, then, did he go to the greater extent of devising a complicated tube assembly?
Maybe O’Reilly wasn’t in a position to implement a cam that completely solved the adaptability issues from the Edison pen. It’s in the same way possible the modified tube assembly was created to make your machine even more functional above and beyond a fitting cam. Frustratingly, we’ll probably never know. No matter what case, apparently at some point someone (possibly even O’Reilly) did locate a cam (or multiple cams) that worked sufficiently enough for tattooing.
Quite pertinently, per year plus a half once 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 as an “Edison electric pen” with a “larger eccentric” to “give the needle more play;” he used this type of machine both for 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 include O’Reilly’s specialized tube assembly. However, it’s difficult to explain why the Boston Herald reporter would have singled out your altered cam, a little tucked away feature, more than a large outward modification say for example a re-configured tube assembly. Besides, all evidence shows that altering the cam was a feasible adaptation; one that also accounts for the presence of straight-handled Edison pen-tattoo machines. (See postscripts 1 & 2)
Did early tattooers use various different size cams to modify the throw on the Edison pen? Were additional modifications required? Also, would the cam solution are already pretty much effective than O’Reilly’s tube assembly system? And which came first? Who can say. Something is for certain progression in technology requires ongoing trials -constant tinkering, testing, and sharing of information. Patents are just one component of the process.
O’Reilly’s patent innovations were important and surely resulted in additional experimentation and discoveries. As well, there must have been numerous un-patented inventions. It makes sense there were multiple adaptations from the Edison pen (In the 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 several various other devices; some we’ve never seen or learn about and some that worked much better than others.
While care ought to be taken with media reports, the consistent use 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 getaway hammer’s pivoting hammer arm shares an uncanny resemblance with the like part over a dental plugger). That O’Reilly may have been tattooing having a dental plugger despite his patent was in place is not really so farfetched. The device he’s holding within the image seen in this 1901 article looks suspiciously like a dental plugger.
Another report inside an 1897 Nebraska Journal article, described O’Reilly outlining tattoos by using a “stylus by using a small battery in the end,” and setting up color having a similar, but smaller, machine using more needles. The content is not going to specify what kinds of machines they were, though the word “stylus” implies a straight-handled device. Also, the point that they differed in proportion, indicates they probably weren’t Edison pens, which as far as we understand came in one standard size.
Exactly the same article proceeds 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 might be the one depicted within a September 11, 1898 Chicago Tribune illustration of O’Reilly tattooing dogs. It seems just 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 had a wind up mechanism similar to a clock which is thought to happen to be modified for tattooing.
1899 Ev’ry Month Magazine. Another unique machine appears within an 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 with 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 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 all trades,” skilled like a steamboat captain, horseshoer, chemist, and water color artist. Family lore also says he was the inventor in the modern day electric tattoo machine.
During the Spanish American war Getchell partnered with O’Reilly within his Ny Bowery shop at 5 Chatham Square. Ultimately, they had a falling out. In accordance with documents from the U.S. District Court for that Southern District of New York, in April of 1899, O’Reilly filed charges against Getchell, claiming he had infringed on his patent by selling machines made in accordance with the patent “within the district of Massachusetts and elsewhere,” which he was “threatening to help make the aforesaid tattooing machines in big amounts, and to provide the market therewith and also to sell the same…” Getchell then hired a legal representative and moved completely to another shop across the road at 11 Chatham Square.
Within his 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, mainly because it was “impractical, inoperative, and wholly useless.” Most significantly, he maintained that the reasons for O’Reilly’s machines was, in reality, created by Thomas Edison.
The final a part of Getchell’s argument held particular weight. When he had likely borrowed ideas using their company devices to make his machine, even O’Reilly’s (i.e. an ink reservoir), he only needed to demonstrate the novelty of his invention, equally as O’Reilly had done with his patent. As being an aside, Getchell called upon patent expert Octavius Knight to testify from the case. Court documents usually do not specify whether Knight ever took the stand, but in regards to the time he was anticipated to appear, the way it is was dropped.
So what was Getchell’s invention? Court papers refer to a pair of Getchell’s machines, Exhibit A, the machine he was currently using, and Exhibit C, a piece of equipment 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 as a “vibrator” inside a 1926 interview together with the Winston-Salem Journal, that he differentiated from O’Reilly’s “electric needle.” The term “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 may have referenced a number of electromagnetic devices. But a grainy picture of Getchell’s machine in the 1902 New York Tribune article looks very much like a current day tattoo machine, filled with an L-shaped frame and dual front-to-back (in step with the frame) electromagnetic coils.
A clearer duplicate of the image seen below -which once hung from the tattoo shop of famous Norfolk, Virginia tattoo artist “Cap” Coleman and is now housed from the Tattoo Archive -settles any uncertainty across the matter. Getchell’s machine was absolutely of contemporary day build.
Evidently, Getchell ended up being using this kind of machine for some time. The 1902 New York City Tribune article reported he 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 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 are based on vibrating bell mechanisms -operated by two electromagnetic coils, which actuate the vibrating motion of the armature thus the reciprocating motion of your needle. Specifically, the type together with the armature arranged with the coils. Vibrating bell mechanisms were quite powerful, ingeniously streamlined constructions employed in various alarms, annunciators, indicators, and doorbells through the mid-1800s on. Whether or not this was actually Getchell or somebody else, who yet again, made the intuitive leap of transforming a stand alone electromagnetic mechanism into a handheld device, the bell tattoo machine had irrefutably taken hold by the turn of your century. Several period photos have turned up depicting quite modern looking machines.
We might never understand the 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 in charge of bringing affordable technology on the door from the average citizen in the late 1800s. Sears Roebuck and many other retailers set the buzz once they began offering a wide range of merchandise through mail order; the range 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 insufficient 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 to be said for the point that tattoo machines were also later sold as “outfits,” complete with batteries and wiring. (In England, on March 24, 1900, Alfred South of England actually received a patent to get a tattoo machine based upon a doorbell mechanism (UK 13,359). It also included the doorbell encasing).
However tinkering tattoo artists were exposed to bells, the invention led the way to a whole new realm of innovation. With the much variety in bells and the versatility in their movable parts, tattoo artists could test out countless inventive combinations, good to go to work by using an excpetionally reliable mechanism.
Bell mechanisms were typically placed on a wood or metal base, so they could be held on a wall. Not all, however some, were also fitted in a frame that was created to keep working parts properly aligned inspite of the constant jarring in the bell. With minor modification a bell mechanism, particularly 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, plus a tube holder (vice) of some type.
The general consensus would be that the earliest bell tattoo machines were built up/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 having the adjustable parts; i.e. the armature, coils, needle bar, armature springs, binding posts, contacts, etc.
A particular bell put in place provided the framework of your tattoo machine style known today being a “classic single-upright” -a piece of equipment with the L-shaped frame, an upright bar on a single side along with a short “shelf” extending from 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 offers nothing with regards to 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 from the era. Right-handed machines, which eventually won out over left-handed machines, are viewed to have come along around or after the 1910s. However, as evidenced with 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 viewed to obtain come later is because they are seen as spin-offs of left-handed machines, the assumption being that this right side upright was 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 rather than left side). Since it ends up, bell frames with right side uprights existed alongside their left-sided counterparts. Though they seem to have been rarer, they well could possibly have provided the inspiration for right-handed tattoo machines.
You will find too many bell-influenced adaptations to outline in the following paragraphs. Only one prominent example will be the back return spring assembly modification which has often been implemented in tattoo 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 at the pivot point, then this return spring is attached at the backmost end and anchored to bolt below. Based on 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 may also be used rather than return spring. Basically, a rubberband or return spring is coupled to the top, backmost component of a lengthened armature then secured into a modified, lengthened post towards the bottom end of the frame. Your back return spring essentially regulates tension and proper functioning, the same as the back armature spring on modern tattoo machines. (An example of Walter Cleveland’s c. 1920s to 1940s version of this sort of machine is visible from the Tattoo Archive’s online shop here).
The pivoting armature-return spring set up could 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 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 contained a lengthy pivoting piece linked to the armature 20dexmpky bent downward in a 90 degree angle off the back of the device frame; the return spring was connected horizontally, in between the bent down arm and the machine, instead of vertically.
The pivoting armature-return spring create actually dates back much further. It was actually a significant component of several 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 exists in invention, each of W.G.A. Bonwill’s twin-coiled dental plugger patents (along with the improved, manufactured model) employed variants of this create. It shouldn’t come like a surprise. In the end, Bonwill was inspired through the telegraph.