Backstory aside, it’s clear that inventors like Bonwill, Green, and Edison -who made the extraordinary, inventive leap of converting an electromagnetic coil mechanism into a practical handheld instrument -greatly influenced the creation of Tattoo Supply. Unnamed others unquestionably played a role as well. Within the 1870s, electric handheld implements were, since yet, novelties. When tradesman and practitioners began using these tools in a professional capacity, they encountered limitations. Efforts to eliminate shortcomings led to further discovery and innovation. When tattoo artists began modifying the same electric devices for his or her own purposes, it might have produced a completely new wave of findings.
At this time, the total selection of machines accessible to early tattooers isn’t known. But dental pluggers and Edison’s rotary pen (the only known Edison pen manufactured) were conceivably on top of this list. Within 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 throughout in less than 6 weeks. But there seemed to be 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 skilled mechanic to develop the device.”
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 designed 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 set up 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.
Mainly 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 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 the reciprocating needle assembly. Rejection notes clarify that in experience of the UK patent it will 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 the crossover in invention, O’Reilly was required 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 need to prove their creation is novel and distinct. This is often tricky and might be one reason a lot of early tattoo artists didn’t patent their ideas -though for those we know several could have tried and failed. (Unfortunately, all pre-1920s abandoned patent applications have already been destroyed).
In accordance with legend, twenty days after O’Reilly obtained his rotary patent within the Usa, England’s Tom Riley allegedly obtained a British patent for a 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. More likely, the tale is confused through the years. Pat Brooklyn -in the interview with Tom Riley entitled Pictures on the epidermis -discusses just one-coil machine Riley was tattooing within 1903, but doesn’t mention a patent for this machine at all. What he does inform is it: “The electric-needle was introduced by Mr. Riley and his cousin, Mr. S.F. O’Riley [sic]…and was patented by them on December 8, 1891, although it has since had several alterations and improvements made to it.”
Since we understand Riley wasn’t O’Reilly’s co-patentee, his claims in this particular interview were obviously embellished. As soon as the story was printed though, it was actually probably passed on and muddied with each re-telling. It well could possibly have inspired the comments in George Burchett’s Memoirs of a Tattooist; that Riley obtained a British patent on December 28, 1891, which improved on O’Reilly’s patent by adding 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 with all the needles moving through the core in the electromagnetic coils inside, quite similarly to some of the cylindrical shaped dental pluggers and perforating pens of your era.
Considering 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 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 within the U.S. in 1872, Blake obtained numerous patents for his inventions, the initial as being a Three Headed Songstress illusion sponsored by Bunnell’s Dime Museum of the latest York. And, he was knowledgeable about O’Reilly.
National Archives and Records Administration; Washington, D.C.; Index to Petitions for Naturalizations Filed in Federal, State, and native 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 The Big Apple, 1792-1906. “40 South” was the area of Edwin Thomas’ tattoo shop before he was imprisoned for shooting his ex-girlfriend in 1890.
Not just 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 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, similar to O’Reilly’s tube assembly. Also, inside the years just following O’Reilly’s patent Blake began patenting several electromagnetic contact devices.
Adding to intrigue, Blake was connected with John Williams, the dime show tattooer who claimed both he and O’Reilly discovered a “new method” of tattooing many years earlier. The 2 had headlined together both in Boston and New York City dime museums before Williams left for England.
No matter what link by using these other men, O’Reilly supports the patent. Today, his invention is upheld as the ultimate tattoo machine from the day. Because the product of dedicated trials, O’Reilly’s patent machine significantly led to the growth of tattoo machines. And, he certainly deserves the accolades for his efforts, particularly for being the first one to obtain a patent. But there’s some question whether or not he ever manufactured his invention -on the massive anyway -or whether it was in wide spread use at virtually any point.
In 1893, just two years following the patent was in place, tattoo artist and vaudeville actor Arthur Birchman claimed he owned 2 of O’Reilly’s machines, but while he told the entire world newspaper reporter there were only “…four in the world, other two staying in the possession of Prof. O’Reilly…”
O’Reilly’s comments within an 1898 New York Sun interview are equally curious. He said that he or she had marketed a “smaller sort of machine” over a “small scale,” but had only ever sold several of those “he uses himself.”
These snippets infer: (1) that O’Reilly didn’t necessarily create a large quantity of the patent machines (2) that he had constructed a couple of kind of machine between 1891 and 1898, and (3) how the patent wasn’t the preferred tattooing device throughout the 1800s.
The overall implication is O’Reilly (as well as other tattoo artists) continued experimenting with 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 utilizing a variety of Round Liner HOLLOW during this era. Up to now, neither a working illustration of O’Reilly’s patent model, nor a photo of a single has surfaced. But a straight-handled adaptation of the Edison pen is depicted in numerous media photos. For many years, this machine has been a supply of confusion. The most obvious stumper may be the missing crooked tube assembly. Ironically, the lack of this feature is actually a clue in itself. It indicates there was a different way to render the Edison pen operable for tattooing.
Anyone knowledgeable about rotary driven machines -for any sort -recognizes that proper functioning is contingent using the cam mechanism. The cam can be 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 on the tattoo machine). Cams are available in varied shapes and forms. An apt sized/shaped cam is crucial to precise control and timing of your machine, and in case damaged or changed, can affect the way a machine operates. How is it possible, then, which simply altering the cam on Edison’s rotary pen can make it functional for tattooing? Every one of the evidence demonstrates that it absolutely was a significant area of the solution.
Thomas Edison paid special focus to the cam mechanism on his 1876 rotary pen. The cam was enclosed within a nook towards the top of the needle-bar, the location where the needle bar met the rotating shaft (axis). The rotating shaft (axis) was positioned from the direct center in the cam and the flywheel. As being the fly wheel revolved, and turned the rotating shaft, the cam turned with it, resulting in the needle-bar (follower) to maneuver all around.
From the text of his 1875 British patent (UK 3762), Edison noted the cam on his rotary pens might have “one or more arms” acting upon the needle bar. Per year later, when he patented the rotary pen in the United states (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 all around motions towards the needle per revolution, and thus more perforations per revolution. Perhaps, after some 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 actually too “weak” -the stroke/throw of your machine wasn’t for long enough -and wasn’t best for getting ink to the skin.
Present day rotary tattoo machines also greatly rely on cam mechanics, but they’re fitted with a round shaped “eccentric cam” with the off-centered pin rather than an armed cam. A lot of today’s rotary machines are constructed to fit many different 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 usually used interchangeably).
Did O’Reilly understand 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 necessary to outline the cam or cam mechanism on his patent application. Remember, however, that the cam on O’Reilly’s accompanying diagram is conspicuously diamond-shaped instead of three-pointed as on Edison’s rotary. In addition, 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 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 of implement a cam that completely solved the adaptability issues in the Edison pen. It’s in the same way possible the modified tube assembly was meant to create the machine a lot more functional beyond a fitting cam. Frustratingly, we’ll probably never know. Whatever the case, it seems that at some point someone (possibly even O’Reilly) did locate a cam (or multiple cams) that worked sufficiently enough for tattooing.
Quite pertinently, annually plus a half right after the 1891 patent is in place -in July of 1893 -the Boston Herald published an article about Captain Fred McKay of Boston, and distinctly described his tattoo machine as being an “Edison electric pen” by using 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).
Because 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 could have singled 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 a feasible adaptation; the 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 regulate the throw in the Edison pen? Were additional modifications required? Also, would the cam solution have been basically effective than O’Reilly’s tube assembly system? And which came first? Who is able to say. Something is definite progression in technology requires ongoing trials -constant tinkering, testing, and sharing of knowledge. Patents are just one element of the process.
O’Reilly’s patent innovations were important and surely led to additional experimentation and discoveries. As well, there need to have been numerous un-patented inventions. It makes sense that there were multiple adaptations from 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 certainly constructed a miscellany of machines with diverse modifications, relying on perforating devices, dental drills, engravers, sewing machines, telegraphs, telephones, and many other related devices; some we’ve never seen or learn about and some that worked superior to others.
While care needs to be taken with media reports, the consistent utilization of the word “hammer” in the article invokes something other than an Edison pen; a dental plugger aka dental hammer is the thing that comes to mind. (A vacation hammer’s pivoting hammer arm shares an uncanny resemblance with all the like part on a dental plugger). That O’Reilly may have been tattooing by using a dental plugger even though his patent is at place is not so farfetched. The device he’s holding inside the image seen within this 1901 article looks suspiciously like a dental plugger.
One more report within an 1897 Nebraska Journal article, described O’Reilly outlining tattoos having a “stylus by using a small battery about the end,” and investing in color using a similar, but smaller, machine using more needles. This article will not specify what types of machines these were, even though the word “stylus” implies a straight-handled device. Also, the point that they differed in proportions, indicates they probably weren’t Edison pens, which as far as we all know arrived one standard size.
The identical article goes on to illustrate O’Reilly’s shading machine, which operated by clockwork rather than electricity. It had fifty needles and was “actuated by a heavy [clockwork] spring.” This machine may be the one depicted in a September 11, 1898 Chicago Tribune illustration of O’Reilly tattooing dogs. It seems comparable to other perforator pens from the era, an effective example being the pattern making device patented by British sewing machine manufacturers Wilson, Hansen, and Treinan (UK 5009)December 7, 1878. This product enjoyed a find yourself mechanism similar to a clock which is believed to are already 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 in the article, however, didn’t offer specifics about this device.
Another unique machine appears within an October 1899 Ev’ry Month Magazine article about O’Reilly, England’s Sutherland McDonald, and Japan’s Hori Chiyo. The article author from the article, however, didn’t offer specifics for 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 all 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.
In the Spanish American war Getchell partnered with O’Reilly within his New York City Bowery shop at 5 Chatham Square. Ultimately, they had a falling out. In accordance with documents from the U.S. District Court for your 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 create the aforesaid tattooing machines in large quantities, and also to supply the market therewith as well as sell the same…” Getchell then hired an attorney and moved completely to another shop across the street at 11 Chatham Square.
In their rebuttal testimony, Getchell clarified that his tattoo machine was not made “employing or containing any section of the said alleged invention [patent].” He further proclaimed that O’Reilly didn’t even use the patent machine, mainly because it was “impractical, inoperative, and wholly useless.” Most significantly, he maintained that this reasons for O’Reilly’s machines was, the simple truth is, designed by Thomas Edison.
The last component of Getchell’s argument held particular weight. As he had likely borrowed ideas using their company devices to produce 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 carried out with his patent. As being an aside, Getchell called upon patent expert Octavius Knight to testify inside the case. Court documents will not specify whether Knight ever took the stand, but concerning the time he was expected to appear, the situation was dropped.
So what was Getchell’s invention? Court papers make reference to a pair of Getchell’s machines, Exhibit A, the appliance he was currently using, and Exhibit C, a machine he’d supposedly invented in prior years. Unfortunately, neither is illustrated in any detail. Tattoo artist Lew Alberts (1880-1954) described Getchell’s invention like a “vibrator” within a 1926 interview with the Winston-Salem Journal, which he differentiated from O’Reilly’s “electric needle.” The word “vibrator” infers that Getchell’s machine operated through a vibrating electromagnetic motor. (Edison referred to his electromagnetic stencil pen like a “vibrator.”)
Alberts’ description isn’t specific and may have referred to numerous electromagnetic devices. But a grainy picture of Getchell’s machine within a 1902 The Big Apple Tribune article looks like a current day tattoo machine, filled with an L-shaped frame and dual front-to-back (consistent with the frame) electromagnetic coils.
A clearer duplicate of the image seen below -which once hung inside the tattoo shop of famous Norfolk, Virginia tattoo artist “Cap” Coleman and 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 kind of machine for quite a while. The 1902 New York Tribune article reported which he had invented it “a variety 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 entirely possible that Getchell had invented the appliance in question before he permanently left his hometown of Boston, Massachusetts in 1897.
It’s well known that modern tattoo machines are based on vibrating bell mechanisms -operated by two electromagnetic coils, which actuate the vibrating motion of your armature and therefore the reciprocating motion of the needle. Specifically, what type with the armature lined up using the coils. Vibrating bell mechanisms were quite powerful, ingeniously streamlined constructions used in various types of alarms, annunciators, indicators, and doorbells through the mid-1800s on. Whether or not this was actually Getchell or someone else, who again, made the intuitive leap of transforming a stand-alone electromagnetic mechanism right into a handheld device, the bell tattoo machine had irrefutably taken hold with the turn in the century. Numerous period photos have turned up depicting quite modern looking machines.
We might never be aware of precise date the very first bell tattoo machine was made. But it’s possible their seemingly sudden popularity is linked to the emergence of mail order catalogs responsible for bringing affordable technology to the door from the average citizen within the late 1800s. Sears Roebuck and plenty of other retailers set the craze after they began offering an array of merchandise through mail order; the range 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, on account of absence of electrical wiring generally in most homes and buildings. They consisted of battery power, wiring, and either a nickel or wood box encasing. There’s something to be said for the reality 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 according to a doorbell mechanism (UK 13,359). Additionally, it included the doorbell encasing).
However tinkering tattoo artists were exposed to bells, the discovery led the way to a new field of innovation. With much variety in bells and also the versatility of their movable parts, tattoo artists could test out countless inventive combinations, good to go to operate by using an excpetionally reliable mechanism.
Bell mechanisms were typically mounted on a wood or metal base, so they are often hung on a wall. Not all, however some, were also fitted in a frame which had been designed to keep working parts properly aligned in spite of the constant jarring from the bell. With minor modification a bell mechanism, especially those by using a frame, could possibly be removed from the wood or metal base and transformed into a tattoo machine; i.e. adding a needle bar, tube, plus a tube holder (vice) of some type.
The typical consensus is the earliest bell tattoo machines were built up/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 help of the adjustable parts; i.e. the armature, coils, needle bar, armature springs, binding posts, contacts, etc.
A single bell set up provided the framework of the tattoo machine style known today like a “classic single-upright” -a unit with an L-shaped frame, a vertical bar using one side along with a short “shelf” extending in the back side.
Machines with left-side uprights are termed as left-handed machines. Machines with right-side uprights are known as right-handed machines. (It offers nothing with regards to whether the tattoo artist remains-handed or right-handed).su4
It’s generally believed left-handed machines came first, since the frame is akin to typical bell frames in the era. Right-handed machines, which eventually won out over left-handed machines, are thought to have 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 all. The reason why right-handed tattoo machines are thought to have come later is because are seen as spin-offs of left-handed machines, the assumption being that the 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 on the right side rather than 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 perfectly may have provided the inspiration for right-handed tattoo machines.
There are too many bell-influenced adaptations to outline in this article. But one prominent example is definitely 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 is made up of lengthened armature, or perhaps extra steel pivoting piece, extended beyond the top back portion of the armature. The armature or pivoting piece is steadied by two screws at a pivot point, a return spring is attached in the backmost end and anchored to bolt below. According to one catalog description, these bells produced “a powerful blow” ideal for a security alarm or railroad signal.
The setup on tattoo machines is similar, except a rubberband is oftentimes used rather than a return spring. Basically, a rubberband or return spring is connected to the top, backmost a part of a lengthened armature then secured to your modified, lengthened post towards the bottom end of the frame. The rear return spring essentially regulates tension and proper functioning, similar to your back armature spring on modern tattoo machines. (An illustration of this Walter Cleveland’s c. 1920s to 1940s version of this type of machine is visible in the Tattoo Archive’s web store here).
The pivoting armature-return spring create may have been first implemented with an early date. Notably, bells 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 with this idea in the 1904 patent machine (US Patent 768,413). His version contained a long pivoting piece coupled to the armature 20dexmpky bent downward at a 90 degree angle off the rear of the equipment frame; the return spring was connected horizontally, in between the bent down arm as well as the machine, as an alternative to vertically.
The pivoting armature-return spring put in place actually dates back much further. It absolutely was a significant component of a number 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 may be in invention, both W.G.A. Bonwill’s twin-coiled dental plugger patents (along with the improved, manufactured model) employed variants of this set up. It shouldn’t come as a surprise. All things considered, Bonwill was inspired with the telegraph.