The Evolution of the American Tattoo

Published on January 19, 2014 by admin

Traditional American Tattoos

Tattooing in America has evolved from a long, rich history which began in the early nineteenth century with sailors. Proof of this was discovered in a seaman’s log which, at the time, was referred to as "pricking." Shops were frequently situated near ship ports so that sailors had easy access which meant that many of the first tattoos were inspired by life at sea. These tattoos included anchors and mermaids, along with many other tattoo designs such as hearts, women, crosses, and more.

The traditional American tattoo is beautiful because of its simplistic appearance. Traditional tattoo designs are distinct in that there is no varied line weight and they are fairly simple using basic colors without a lot of blending and fading which today’s tattooists tend to use. The art of the true traditional tattoo is not seen as often these days, although there are a handful of tattooists who have mastered this skill.

Sailor Jerry Collins, one of the pioneers of traditional American tattooing, is a great example of a tattoo artist who tattooed in this style. Today, Sailor Jerry tattoo art can be found on T-Shirts, wall prints, sneakers, and even on replicas of his old tattoo flash.

American Tattoos Evolve

As America's tattoo history evolved, the practice became more popular in America with the invention of electric tattoo machines in the late 1800’s. This made the process of getting a tattoo much faster and enabled tattoo artists to create designs with more detail. Between the 1940’s and 1950’s, tattooing in America became very popular among young men who went to war. It was common to see soldiers with tattoos representative of their patriotism such as American flags, eagles, or the names of their division and military units. At that time, it was still considered taboo for a woman to have a tattoo.

As time passed, American society adapted and began to embrace the idea of tattoos on people other than sailors, army men, and criminals. During the 1960’s and 1970’s when “free love” and “freedom of expression” were beliefs which were held very dear, both men and women demonstrated their anti-war beliefs by getting tattoos of peace signs and various other designs to express themselves.

In the present, anyone can have a tattoo and it is hardly considered taboo. Moms have them, dads have them, teachers have them, doctors have them…tattoos are for anyone who wants to use ink to express themselves. In American culture, people who have tattoos typically still use them to express personal beliefs but also for other reasons. Some people get a memorial tattoo to remember a loved one who has passed away and others get them “just because” they like the way they look. As this country's tattoo history continues to be written, it is worth noting that the great thing about American tattoos is the variety and the freedom to get whatever you want, wherever you want.