By Timothy “Tattoo Timmy” Adams


Tattooing is an ancient art that has been around for hundreds of years and some would even say it’s the “second oldest profession”.

Electric tattooing was invented in New York City in the late 1800’s by an Irish immigrant named Samuel L. O’Riley. He started tattooing by hand and tried other ways to help make his job quicker. During this time, he experimented with foot powered dental drills and then modified an invention by Thomas Edison called the Edison Pen. The pen, which was invented in 1876, was meant for perforating paper to make copies. Samuel envisioned this to be a tattoo machine! He set out his plans to design the first electric tattoo machine. This took him awhile to patent because his design was too similar to Edison’s design. He worked on a new design and in 1891 he received his patent. Unfortunately, it was not widely accepted until the design was modified by O’Reilly’s apprentice, Charles Wagner. His design was unpopular however the modified doorbell is now considered the modern tattoo machine.

It was during this time that tattooing was considered a trade and they made their equipment from scratch. People would exchange ideas from around the world through a pen pal system. Sewing needles were grouped together to form tattoo needles, and all the tools in the industry where actually modified items turned into “tattoo equipment”.

Safe colors were also limited for tattooing and they teamed up with chemists to find safe pigments to be used in their profession.
As time went on a stigma was attached to tattooing and it became nothing more than a hobby. Equipment could only be found in the backs of magazines and shops where only located in major cities, ports of call, and traveling carnivals. This art was both crude and complex. Most of the artists were located in New York City and consisted of drunks and sign painters, which happened to be classically trained in art design. New Jersey was also exposed to tattoo artists and many great legends in the industry. Needless to say, I cannot write about them all and do proper justice to them. After all they were and are American as hotdogs and baseball!

If you have a question you would like for Tim to answer, write to him C/O The Clayton Free Press, P.O. Box 201, Clayton, NJ 08312
Editor’s Note: For those questioning the “longevity” of the tattoo industry, you’re in for an education. Last year, the industry generated an estimated $1.6 billion in revenue, according to the market research firm IBISWorld – and its continuing to grow rapidly. Over the next decade, the industry is expected to grow at an annualized rate of 7.7%.
Tim Adams is the proprietor of Tattoo Timmy’s in Turnersville, NJ. and an artist in his own right, having practiced the art of tattooing for more than a decade. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Tim relocated to New Jersey area about 12 years ago, and opened his own establishment in 2012. Tattoo Timmy’s has operated from the same location at 127 Greentree Road in Turnersville for nearly seven years. More than an artist, Tim is also a tattoo historian, producing six documentaries on the art and history tattoo legends, currently available on available for anyone to see at https://www.youtube.com/user/tattootimmy666

Feel free to drop by, talk to Tim about making the right tattoo selection, and see his world-renowned Museum of Tattoo History, including tools and artwork dating back to the early years of the art. Visit Tattoo Timmy’s at http://tattootimmys.com/, call 856-302-1311 to make an appointment.


Also featured in this section in future print and digital issues will be columns and news from the Borough’s Historic Advisory Committee and the Clayton Historic Museum, the Veteran’s Committee, the Board of Health, and other committees, boards and citizen groups representing the residents of Clayton.

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