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 growth of Tattoo Supply. Unnamed others unquestionably played a part at the same time. Within the 1870s, electric handheld implements were, at the time of yet, novelties. When tradesman and practitioners began utilizing these tools inside a professional capacity, they encountered limitations. Efforts to settle shortcomings generated further discovery and innovation. When tattoo artists began modifying exactly the same electric devices for their own purposes, it would have produced a whole new wave of findings.
At this time, the full 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. Inside an 1898 Ny Sun interview, O’Reilly said he experimented with both before settling on his patent design. Regarding his dental plugger machine, he claimed, he could tattoo someone all over in under about 6 weeks. But there seemed to be room for improvement. Discussing the trial-and-error process, he explained 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 very own idea, had it patented, and got a qualified mechanic to build the equipment.”
O’Reilly’s patent machine, essentially an Edison pen, was modified with the addition of an ink reservoir, accommodations for over one needle, as well as a specialized tube assembly system meant to solve the “weakness” issue of his previous machines. Like the original Edison pen, the reciprocating action of O’Reilly’s machine, was actuated via 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 made with two 90 degree angles, whilst the needle bar inside was segmented with pivots. This put in place allowed to get a lever and fulcrum system that further acted about the lower end of your needle bar and theoretically served to lengthen the stroke/throw from the needle.
Mainly because it appears, 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 similar to 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 its reciprocating needle assembly. Rejection notes clarify that in relationship with the united kingdom patent it would not have involved invention to include an ink reservoir to the Carey pen. (Carey’s patent already included specifications for a form of ink duct).
Due to the crossover in invention, O’Reilly were required to revise his claims many times before his patent was granted. This actually happened frequently. Patent law permits inventions based on existing patents. But applicants ought to prove their creation is novel and distinct. This could be tricky and may be one reason more of the early tattoo artists didn’t patent their ideas -though for many we know several may 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 inside the Usa, England’s Tom Riley allegedly obtained a British patent for the single-coil machine. However, while Riley might have invented this kind of device, he didn’t patent it. A British patent isn’t on file. More inclined, the tale has become confused throughout the years. Pat Brooklyn -in his interview with Tom Riley entitled Pictures on the Skin -discusses just one-coil machine Riley was tattooing within 1903, but doesn’t mention a patent for this particular machine by any means. What he does inform could this be: “The electric-needle was introduced by Mr. Riley with his fantastic 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 all know Riley wasn’t O’Reilly’s co-patentee, his claims in this interview were obviously embellished. Once the story was printed though, it had been probably handed down and muddied with every re-telling. It adequately 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 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 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 in the electromagnetic coils inside, quite similarly to a few of the cylindrical shaped dental pluggers and perforating pens from the 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 which 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 in the U.S. in 1872, Blake obtained numerous patents for his inventions, the very first being a Three Headed Songstress illusion sponsored by Bunnell’s Dime Museum of the latest York. And, he was familiar 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 Local Courts in The Big Apple, 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 long after his patent claims were first denied, O’Reilly signed as a witness on Blake’s naturalization application.
Although we can’t be sure that Blake was 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, inside the years just following O’Reilly’s patent Blake began patenting a number 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. Both the had headlined together both in Boston and New York City dime museums before Williams left for England.
Regardless of the link with one of these other men, O’Reilly holds the patent. Today, his invention is upheld since the ultimate tattoo machine of its day. Since the product of dedicated trials, O’Reilly’s patent machine significantly led to the advancement of tattoo machines. And, he certainly deserves the accolades for his efforts, specifically being the first to obtain a patent. But there’s some question as to whether he ever manufactured his invention -with a large anyway -or whether or not this is in wide spread use at any point.
In 1893, just 2 years after the patent is at place, tattoo artist and vaudeville actor Arthur Birchman claimed he owned two of O’Reilly’s machines, but since he told the World newspaper reporter there are only “…four on the planet, one other two getting into the possession of Prof. O’Reilly…”
O’Reilly’s comments within an 1898 New York City Sun interview are equally curious. He explained that he or she had marketed a “smaller sort of machine” on the “small scale,” but had only ever sold a couple of of the “he uses himself.”
These snippets infer: (1) that O’Reilly didn’t necessarily generate a large volume of the patent machines (2) that he had constructed more than one kind of machine between 1891 and 1898, and (3) the patent wasn’t the most preferred tattooing device throughout the 1800s.
The entire implication is O’Reilly (and other tattoo artists) continued tinkering with different machines and modifications, despite the patent was issued.
Media reports aren’t always reliable, naturally. And, we’re definitely missing bits of the puzzle. But there’s more. Additional evidence corroborates utilizing a variety of Round Liner HOLLOW throughout this era. Thus far, neither a working instance of O’Reilly’s patent model, nor an image of a single has surfaced. But a straight-handled adaptation in the Edison pen is depicted in many media photos. For several years, this machine has been a source of confusion. The most obvious stumper is definitely the missing crooked tube assembly. Ironically, the absence of this feature is a clue by itself. It indicates there is an additional way to render the Edison pen operable for tattooing.
Anyone familiar with rotary driven machines -associated with a sort -understands that proper functioning is contingent using the cam mechanism. The cam is really 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 are available in varied sizes and shapes. An apt sized/shaped cam is vital to precise control and timing of a machine, of course, if damaged or changed, can change the way a machine operates. Is it possible, then, that simply altering the cam on Edison’s rotary pen may make it functional for tattooing? All the evidence implies that it absolutely was a significant area of the solution.
Thomas Edison paid special awareness of the cam mechanism on his 1876 rotary pen. The cam was enclosed within a nook towards the top of the needle-bar, where the needle bar met the rotating shaft (axis). The rotating shaft (axis) was positioned from the direct center of the cam along with the flywheel. Because the fly wheel revolved, and turned the rotating shaft, the cam turned by using it, causing the needle-bar (follower) to maneuver up and down.
Inside the text of his 1875 British patent (UK 3762), Edison noted that this cam on his rotary pens could have “one or maybe more arms” acting upon the needle bar. Each 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), since it gave three up and down motions for the needle per revolution, and thus more perforations per revolution. Perhaps, after some 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 was too “weak” -the stroke/throw in the machine wasn’t for enough time -and wasn’t best for getting ink to the skin.
Current day rotary tattoo machines also greatly depend on cam mechanics, but they’re fitted using a round shaped “eccentric cam” having an off-centered pin as opposed to an armed cam. Several of today’s rotary machines are constructed to match 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 are often used interchangeably).
Did O’Reilly understand about the function of the cam? Unfortunately, since O’Reilly’s foremost invention claims were the custom tube assembly and incorporating an ink reservoir, he wasn’t needed to outline the cam or cam mechanism on his patent application. Remember, however, how the cam on O’Reilly’s accompanying diagram is conspicuously diamond-shaped as opposed to three-pointed as on Edison’s rotary. Additionally, it seems to be of larger proportion. If O’Reilly’s diagram applies-to-life, it suggests he was aware to some degree that changing the cam would affect exactly 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 from the Edison pen. It’s in the same way possible the modified tube assembly was created to make your machine much more functional far above a fitting cam. Frustratingly, we’ll probably never know. Regardless of the case, apparently at some time 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 once 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” having a “larger eccentric” to “give the needle more play;” he used this sort of machine 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 challenging to explain why the Boston Herald reporter might have singled out the altered cam, a compact tucked away feature, over a large outward modification say for example a re-configured tube assembly. Besides, all evidence shows that altering the cam was really 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 alter the throw around the Edison pen? Were additional modifications required? Also, would the cam solution have already been pretty much effective than O’Reilly’s tube assembly system? And which came first? Who can say. One important thing is definite progression in technology requires ongoing trials -constant tinkering, testing, and sharing of knowledge. Patents are only one component of the procedure.
O’Reilly’s patent innovations were important and surely generated additional experimentation and discoveries. Simultaneously, there will need to have been numerous un-patented inventions. It stands to reason that there were multiple adaptations in the Edison pen (In 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 no doubt constructed a miscellany of machines with diverse modifications, influenced by perforating devices, dental drills, engravers, sewing machines, telegraphs, telephones, and lots of other relevant devices; some we’ve never seen or read about plus 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 other than an Edison pen; a dental plugger aka dental hammer is exactly what pops into your head. (A getaway hammer’s pivoting hammer arm shares an uncanny resemblance together with the like part with a dental plugger). That O’Reilly may have been tattooing using a dental plugger even though his patent is in place is not so farfetched. The device he’s holding from the image seen here in this 1901 article looks suspiciously such as a dental plugger.
One more report within an 1897 Nebraska Journal article, described O’Reilly outlining tattoos using a “stylus with a small battery around the end,” and investing in color with a similar, but smaller, machine using more needles. This article is not going to specify what sorts of machines they were, although the word “stylus” implies a straight-handled device. Also, the truth that they differed in proportion, indicates they probably weren’t Edison pens, which with regards to we know arrived one standard size.
Exactly the same article proceeds to explain O’Reilly’s shading machine, which operated by clockwork instead of electricity. It had fifty needles and was “actuated by way of a heavy [clockwork] spring.” This machine could possibly be the one depicted within a September 11, 1898 Chicago Tribune illustration of O’Reilly tattooing dogs. It looks much like other perforator pens of your era, a great example being the pattern making device patented by British sewing machine manufacturers Wilson, Hansen, and Treinan (UK 5009)December 7, 1878. This product possessed a wind up mechanism similar to a clock and is also 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 author from the article, however, didn’t offer specifics about 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. This writer of the article, however, didn’t offer specifics about this device.
An innovator of the 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 from the contemporary electric tattoo machine.
Throughout the Spanish American war Getchell partnered with O’Reilly within his New York Bowery shop at 5 Chatham Square. Ultimately, that they had a falling out. As outlined by documents of your U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, in April of 1899, O’Reilly filed charges against Getchell, claiming that he had infringed on his patent by selling machines made in accordance with 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 provide the market therewith and also to sell the same…” Getchell then hired a legal representative and moved to an alternative shop across the street 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 even use the patent machine, because it was “impractical, inoperative, and wholly useless.” Most significantly, he maintained that this basis of O’Reilly’s machines was, in reality, created by Thomas Edison.
The past component of Getchell’s argument held particular weight. While he had likely borrowed ideas from other devices to create 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 carried out with his patent. As an aside, Getchell called upon patent expert Octavius Knight to testify in the case. Court documents do not specify whether Knight ever took the stand, but about the time he was likely to appear, the truth was dropped.
So what exactly was Getchell’s invention? Court papers make reference to two of Getchell’s machines, Exhibit A, the machine he was currently using, and Exhibit C, a device 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” in 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 by using a vibrating electromagnetic motor. (Edison referenced his electromagnetic stencil pen being a “vibrator.”)
Alberts’ description isn’t specific and could have referenced a number of electromagnetic devices. But a grainy picture of Getchell’s machine in the 1902 The Big Apple Tribune article looks just like a current day tattoo machine, detailed 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 from the tattoo shop of famous Norfolk, Virginia tattoo artist “Cap” Coleman which is now housed in the Tattoo Archive -settles any uncertainty over the matter. Getchell’s machine was absolutely of modern day build.
Evidently, Getchell have been using this particular machine for quite a while. The 1902 The Big Apple Tribune article reported he had invented it “a variety of years” prior, inferably at about 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 in question 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 thus the reciprocating motion of your needle. More specifically, the type together 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 in the mid-1800s on. Whether it was actually Getchell or other people, who once again, made the intuitive leap of transforming a stand alone electromagnetic mechanism in a handheld device, the bell tattoo machine had irrefutably taken hold by the turn in the century. A variety of period photos have turned up depicting quite modern looking machines.
We could never understand the precise date the first bell tattoo machine was developed. But it’s possible their seemingly sudden popularity is associated with the emergence of mail order catalogs responsible for bringing affordable technology on the door of your average citizen within the late 1800s. Sears Roebuck and plenty of other retailers set the popularity once they began offering a wide array of merchandise through mail order; the selection 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 some kinds of bells (particularly doorbells) as outfits, on account of lack of electrical wiring in the majority of homes and buildings. They contained 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,” 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 on a doorbell mechanism (UK 13,359). Additionally, it included the doorbell encasing).
However tinkering tattoo artists were exposed to bells, the discovery led the right way to a new field of innovation. With so much variety in bells as well as the versatility of the movable parts, tattoo artists could try out countless inventive combinations, ready to operate with an excpetionally reliable mechanism.
Bell mechanisms were typically placed on a wood or metal base, so they could be hung on a wall. Not every, but some, were also fitted inside a frame that had been intended to keep working parts properly aligned despite the constant jarring of the bell. With minor modification a bell mechanism, specially those with a frame, could 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 is that the earliest bell tattoo machines were developed/modified bell mechanisms, with additional parts, such as the tube 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.
One 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 in one side as well as a short “shelf” extending through the back side.
Machines with left-side uprights are referred to as left-handed machines. Machines with right-side uprights are termed as right-handed machines. (It provides nothing related to if the tattoo artist remains-handed or right-handed).su4
It’s generally considered that left-handed machines came first, as the frame is akin to typical bell frames of your era. Right-handed machines, which eventually won out over left-handed machines, are viewed to have come along around or once the 1910s. However, as evidenced with the Getchell photo, right-handed tattoo machines were made with a significantly early date.
That’s not all. The main reason right-handed tattoo machines are viewed to get come later is because are viewed as spin-offs of left-handed machines, the assumption being the right side upright was actually 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 ends up, bell frames with right side uprights existed alongside their left-sided counterparts. Though they seem to have been rarer, they well could have provided the inspiration for right-handed tattoo machines.
You can find quite a few bell-influenced adaptations to outline on this page. But one prominent example is definitely the back return spring assembly modification which includes often been implemented in Round Liner HOLLOW over time. On bells -without or with a frame -this set up consists of a lengthened armature, or perhaps extra steel pivoting piece, extended beyond the top back area of the armature. The armature or pivoting piece is steadied by two screws with a pivot point, 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” perfect for a burglar alarm or railroad signal.
The set up on tattoo machines is similar, except a rubberband is sometimes used instead of a return spring. Basically, a rubberband or return spring is connected to the top, backmost element of a lengthened armature and then secured to a modified, lengthened post in the bottom end in the frame. The back return spring essentially regulates tension and proper functioning, exactly like your back armature spring on modern tattoo machines. (An illustration of Walter Cleveland’s c. 1920s to 1940s version of this kind of machine is visible in the Tattoo Archive’s web store here).
The pivoting armature-return spring set up could have been first implemented in an early date. Notably, bells with the corresponding structure were sold by companies like Vallee Bros. and Stanley & Patterson and Company within the mid-to-late 1890s.
Charlie Wagner implemented a variation on this idea in the 1904 patent machine (US Patent 768,413). His version consisted of a lengthy pivoting piece linked to the armature 20dexmpky bent downward at the 90 degree angle off the back of the equipment frame; the return spring was connected horizontally, between your bent down arm and the machine, as opposed to vertically.
The pivoting armature-return spring set up actually dates back much further. It absolutely was an essential part of a few 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, each of W.G.A. Bonwill’s twin-coiled dental plugger patents (and also the improved, manufactured model) employed variants of the create. It shouldn’t come like a surprise. After all, Bonwill was inspired through the telegraph.