Tattoos have been around forever – in fact, since the Stone Age. There is evidence of tattoo usage in nearly every culture across the globe, from the ancient Greeks and Romans to Africans, Native Americans, and Polynesians. As a cultural art form, we have gleaned much about earlier peoples through the types and styles of tattoos they favored.
It’s fascinating to look at how different cultures’ associations with tattoos vary. Ranging from permanent visual statements of belonging, as in tribal and gang tattoos, to rebellion, and even assertion of property, tattoos have long held many functions extending beyond self-expression.
With so much rich lore about the history of the tattoo, we just had to compile a list of fun and interesting facts about tattoos for you to discover. Enjoy!
1. The word “tattoo” traces the back to the Polynesian noun tatau, meaning “puncture, mark made on skin.” Some have even suggested that the word is onomatopoeic, mimicking the tapping sound of early tattooing implements.
2. In 1991, Ötzi the Iceman, the oldest natural mummy ever discovered in Europe dating back to approximately 3255 B.C., was unearthed. The most intriguing discovery is the series of tattoos upon his body, etched over key acupressure points like the joints and the spine, leading researchers to believe that they were not performed in the name of ornamentation, but were a primitive form of medicine.
3. The first tattooing machine (the precursor to today’s tattoo gun) was patented by Samuel F. O’Reilley in 1891. It was actually just a modification of an invention designed for autographic printing, first patented by Thomas Edison 15 years earlier.
4. According to some sources, different types of sailors’ tattoos held different meanings at different times in history. For example, a turtle meant he had crossed the equator; a full-rigged ship meant he navigated around cape horn, and a dragon indicated that the sailor served in China.
5. Several U.S. presidents are rumored to have had tattoos, including Franklin Pierce and Dwight Eisenhower. Theodore Roosevelt, however, is confirmed to have had a family crest inked into his chest.
6. The very first televised beauty pageant (filmed at the 1939 World’s Fair) featured a heavily-tattooed contestant named Betty Broadbent, who was already somewhat famous as a circus performer for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.
7. In 1999, toy maker Mattel introduced the Butterfly Art Barbie which came with a butterfly tattoo on her stomach, along with temporary tattoos for the doll’s owners. It was eventually taken off the market after numerous complaints were received from parents. Mattel later released the Totally Stylin’ Tattoos Barbie in 2009, complete with a temporary-tattoo “gun,” and then the Tokidoki Barbie in 2011, featuring tattoos on her arm and collarbone.
8. Between the years 1961 and 1997, it was illegal to get a tattoo in New York City. It was banned by the Department of Health after public hysteria following a hepatitis outbreak, forcing tattoo artists to operate on an underground basis. In Massachusetts, tattooing remained illegal until as recently as 2000, with sever penalties including possible jail sentences.
9. Macy’s simple red star logo was was taken from a tattoo that founder R.H. Macy wore on his forearm. In his youth, Macy found employment on whaling vessels, where he acquired the tattoo among other rough-and-tumble sailors.
10. European missionaries in the Cook Islands tried to remove tattoos from the bodies of native Polynesians by scrubbing them off with sandstone – much like a ship’s deck would be scrubbed. Since the ink lay deep in the skin’s dermis, this involved scouring the body raw.
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Call today for a free consultation at (615) 521-8847.