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Brief introduction to

tattoo history

A journey from prehistory to the present day.
Whenever I have wanted to investigate the origins and development of tattooing in the world, I have found records that dealt with small parts of this long history, that is, they focused on documenting the history of tattooing in a specific region, such as the Pacific, Japan, Europe or the United States.

I also found many curious facts and interesting characters that do not have as much historical relevance, but who deserve to be remembered. And how not to mention the countless illustrations and photos worth seeing and collecting, which often count more than what has been written on the subject.

Perhaps due to my limited historical knowledge, I was never able to mentally organize a timeline to understand the chronological order of all these stories from different corners of the planet for so many centuries.

Hence my desire to organize this timeline with the most important and striking events in the history of tattooing.
This timeline is far from complete, even so with what it already has it helps to understand what and when some of the significant events of the tattoo's past happened. It also encourages us to perceive what the act of tattooing really is, beyond the current perspective, sometimes so superficial and full of prejudices.

I have tried to be concise with each of the events added to the timeline, and on the other hand I wanted to leave bibliographic references and links for those who want to know more about each topic. And when I have some time I will add more information to this web session. There is much more to tell!

Welcome to all the curious, I hope you can enjoy this brief history of the tattoo!
Historia del Tatuaje - Charles Darwin
"You cannot name a single great country, from the polar regions in the north to New Zealand in the south, in which Aboriginal people did not get tattoos."
Charles Darwin (1809 - 1882)

History Tattoo

Años 2010

The laser to remove tattoos is becoming more and more effective and the demand for tattoos on the most visible parts of the body is increasing 

eliminacion de tatuajes mediante laser

Laser tattoo removal treatments began to develop in the 1960s, but it took many decades to find techniques that did not cause very deep wounds, very ugly scars and too much ink residue under the skin. Time has passed and investigations..Read More


A more modern mechanism for tattooing

A more modern mechanism for tattooing

The Cheyenne brand from Berlin (Germany) presents a tattoo machine with a different mechanism from previous machines. They are small, quiet, light and easy to clean. Shortly after, Cheyenne introduces the so-called cartridges, modules of disposable needles for tattooing. Cheyenne's machines have been largely successful.Read More

2005Estados Unidos

The tattoo triumphs in the form of a reality show

The tattoo triumphs in the form of a reality show

Miami Ink is born, the first of many reality shows recorded in a tattoo shop. Miami Ink has been an international success and has helped a lot to demystify tattoo shops and reduce the various damages with tattooists and tattooed. After Miami Ink came LA Ink, London Ink and...Read More

2004Estados Unidos

The tattoo as a motif for fashion design

The tattoo as a motif for fashion design

Fashion designer Christian Audigier buys the rights to produce a clothing line called Ed Hardy, which is based on the artist's designs. Over time, a number of fragrances were also released under Hardy's name. These products have been marketed worldwide. Red Eyes, Ana..Read More

Años 2000

Sale of welded needles and better access to tattoo material

Sale of welded needles and better access to tattoo material

Finally, there is beginning to be easier and cheaper access to quality tattoo material. And in these years there is an important milestone in the history of tattooing: the commercialization of already welded needles for tattooing. Until then, always learn to solder the needles used to make tattoos.Read More

1981Estados Unidos

MTV begins its transmissions

MTV begins its transmissions

MTV, then a television channel totally dedicated to music, begins its transmissions. Television, movies and music are becoming more accessible to everyone. The cultural production seen through the screens influences young people around the world, mainly that generated by the United States...Read More

Años 1980 y 1990

Fear of AIDS affects tattoo practice

Fear of AIDS affects tattoo practice

AIDS became known in the early 1980s, it spread throughout the world and until the end of the 1990s it remained a fairly lethal disease. Because it is a blood-borne disease, tattoo artists adopt new sanitary hygienic protocols, many of their own free will and others..Read More

Años 1970Estados Unidos

A new era in tattooing

A new era in tattooing begins, influenced by rock'n'roll and the culture of the 70s. Janis Joplin may have been the first celebrity of her time to get tattooed, and she did it in the early 70s in San Francisco with the great Lyle Tuttle, also known for tattooing..Read More

1970Reintroduce el tatuaje japones en Estados Unidos

Gifu Horihide

Gifu Horihide - (Kazuo Oguri)

In the city of Gifu - Japan, in 1933 was born Kazuo Oguri, now an institution in the world of Japanese tattooing. He moved to Tokyo when he was 20 years old to study traditional Japanese tattooing for 5 years with Hideo Murai, the Horihide of Tokyo. He then returned to his hometown...Read More

Años 1960Estados Unidos

Hepatitis epidemic hits New York

Hepatitis epidemic hits New York

An epidemic of hepatitis affects New York in 1961 and consequently causes a rejection of the practice of tattooing, which is no longer as well seen since the previous decade.

Años 1950Estados Unidos

Repression towards the tattoo

The American authorities begin to rigorously control tattooists, which causes many to retire or move. At the same time, there is beginning to be a great moral opposition to the circus artists of the time. The tattoo begins to be associated with the marginalized and the criminal world.

1939 - 1945Segunda Guerra Mundial

The tattoo business increases with the Second World War

The tattoo business increases with the Second World War

Soldiers and Marines line up to get tattoos, especially for military reasons.

1927Europa – América del Norte – Oceanía – África

<i>Gran Omi</i> y el rey de los tatuadores

El “Gran Omi”, antiguo teniente del ejercito británico visita al tatuador londinense George Burchett para empezar su transformación

The Great Omi, a former lieutenant in the British Army, visits London tattoo artist George Burchett to begin his transformation into one of the most famous sideshow artists of the 20th century. George Burchett was known as the “King of Tattoo Artists”, and in his day he became the tattoo artist of choice.Read More

1911Estados Unidos

<i>Sailor Jerry</i> y el tatuaje tradicional americano

saylor jerry

Norman Keith Collins is born. Better known as “Sailor Jerry”, he is one of the great exponents of the traditional American style. Sailor Jerry made several contributions to the world of tattooing, including improvements in tattoo machines, needles and power supplies, as well as expanding the existing range of colors to...Read More

1904Estados Unidos y Francia

Charlie Wagner and Tom Riley

Charlie Wagner, aprendiz de Samuel O´Reilly,

Charlie Wagner, Samuel O'Reilly's apprentice, patents a new version of the electric tattoo machine, inspired by his master's. In the same year, the now famous London tattoo artist Tom Riley, known for tattooing royalty and high society, tattooed a buffalo during an exhibition at...Read More

Finales 1890Estados Unidos

Los primeros <i>Tattoo Flash</i>

“Lew The Jew” Alberts

"Lew The Jew" Alberts begins to produce and market tattoo drawing sheets in New York, thus creating the well-known "Tattoo Flash". "lew the Jew" Alberts: Early 20th Century Tattoo Drawings Tattoo Archive  

1891Estados Unidos

First electric tattoo machine

Samuel O'Reilly patents the first electric tattoo machine

Samuel O'Reilly patents the first electric tattoo machine, thus making the act of tattooing much faster and less painful and with this, much more popular, of course! It is the adaptation of an electric pen that had not been very successful, previously patented by Thomas.Read More

1882Estados Unidos

The first tattooed woman in show business

Nora Hildebrandt

Nora Hildebrandt makes her first professional presentation. She is the first fully tattooed woman to exhibit her body in a circus in the United States. Like the other tattooed circus artists, his performance accompanied a fantastic story to justify his tattooed body.

1872-1948 Japón – Era Meiji

The horimono style tattoo is banned and persecuted

Hombre japonés del siglo XIX con el cuerpo tatuado. Autor desconocido

Before the Meiji era (1868-1912), ornamental tattooing, including the horimono, was a highly visible cultural trait in Japan. However, during the reign of Emperor Meiji Tennō the country went through a phase of modernization and westernization. So the Meiji civilizational campaign considers the horimono as a...Read More

Años 1870Estados Unidos

Captain George Constantenus

Prince Constantine, Albania, c. 1870

Captain George Constentenus joins Barnum's New and Greatest Show on Earth, inspiring many young people to enter the world of tattooing, including Charles Wagner from New York. Captain George Constentenus, was also known as Tattooed Prince, Prince Constantine or the Greek Albanian, among many other names...Read More

Mediados 1800Estados Unidos

First great American tattoo centers

New York and Chicago become the first two major tattoo centers in the United States. At the same time, the railway routes are extended and make it possible for circus attractions to reach more cities, this facilitates communication and learning among tattoo artists.

1841Estados Unidos

America's First Tattooed Storyteller Emerges

James F. O'Connell

The Irishman James F. O'Connell is the first tattooed man to be exhibited in the United States, where he recounted his incredible adventures during the years he lived in the Carolina Islands (Micronesia). He has also left an extensive written account. The Life and Adventures of James F. O'Connell, the Tattooed Man (1845) The Story..Read More

1827-1830 Japón 

Kuniyoshi makes his mark on tattoo history

Kyumonryu Shishin por Utagawa Kuniyoshi

These days Suikoden is already a very successful work and more since the illustrated publication made by Hokusai. In 1827, Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861) was invited to do some woodcuts of the novel. So the still unknown artist represents six heroes, two of them tattooed. The post..Read More


The first tattooed English showman

The first tattooed English showman

The first tattooed English showman was John Rutherford. He has been a great circus attraction showing off his tattoos and recounting his amazing adventures among the Maori of New Zealand. A love story between tattoo and the circus History of a Tattooed Attraction: John Rutherford

1805 - 1838Japón

<i>Hokusai</i> es el primero en representar el tatuaje figurativo en una publicación japonesa

The first Japanese translation of Suikoden is published where the visual content is as relevant as the written one. First of all, it is a collaboration between the writer Kyokutei Takizawa Bakin (1767-1849) who intends to make a faithful translation of the Shuihu zhuan and the Ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). Is..Read More

1804-1829 Japón – Era de Bunka y Bunsei

The evolution of horimono and the first professional tattooists

The evolution of horimono and the first professional tattooists

A revitalization occurs in the entertainment industry and the government relaxes the control around tattoos, allowing the technique to evolve more quickly and the first professional tattooists to emerge, who were often the same carvers who engraved the Ukiyo-style plates. and. With this, at...Read More


The first European to live off his tattoos

The first European to live off his tattoos

The Frenchman Jean Baptiste Cabri is the first European to make a living from showing his tattoos. He does so after deserting the British Navy and spending a season tattooing and living on the Marquesas Islands. History of a Tattooed Attraction: Jean Baptiste Cabri

1787-1793 Japón

Horimono, Ukiyo-e and the tattoo as a protest

At the end of the 18th century, the ornamental Japanese tattoo is more elaborate, assumes larger dimensions and has more and more followers. Japan has lived under a feudal military dictatorship since 1603 and the citizens begin to develop a strong class consciousness. These elaborate kimono-like tattoos she wears..Read More


<i>Omai</i> impresiona la élite de Londres

Sir Joshua Reynolds, Omai, c.1776

After his second trip to the Pacific, James Cook returns to London accompanied by Omai, originally from Raiatea, who visits the city causing great admiration for his tattooed body. Wikipedia


The first modern circus

The first modern circus

The first modern circus sits in Vauxhall Gardens in London. The first modern circus emerged in the United States in 1793. In both countries, circuses would become powerful spaces for spreading tattoo culture. References:

1769 - 1771Inglaterra

The origin of the word “tattoo”

The origin of the word “tattoo”

Marco Polo and John Hawkins had done stories of tattooed people before, but not as relevant. After a trip through the Pacific and a visit to Tahiti, Captain James Cook (English navigator and explorer) in the company of Joseph Banks recounts how the people of this place painted in a...Read More

1751- 1772 Japón – era Hōreki y era Meiwa

The ornamental tattoo gains strength

The decorative tattoo gains more and more space and begins to approach the traditional Japanese style that we know today. In the Hōreki era (1751-1764), ornamental tattooing became popular in the form of small drawings depicting family crests and namakubi (newly severed heads). In the Meiwa era..Read More


The first translation of the Shuihu zhuan is published

SHUIHU ZHUAN Se publica la primera traducción del Shuihu zhuan

No other source has offered as much inspiration for Japanese tattooing as adaptations of the Chinese narrative Shuihu zhuan. This will only happen from the 1820s, but in Japan this narrative is revealed in 1728 and little by little it is gaining strength. Attributed to the writer..Read More

Años 1700Japón

The tattoo as a way to seal a commitment

Irebokuro means "inserted mole"

In Japan, between the 17th and 18th centuries, the practice of irebokuro arose in pleasure districts. Irebokuro means "inserted mole" and they are tattoos of black dots as a symbol of sentimental bond. In the end the practice spread throughout the country, even in the upper classes. The moles..Read More


England's first contact with tattooing

England's first contact with tattooing

He was an enslaved man known as Prince Giolo (Gioli or Jeoly), originally from the Miangas Island (near what is now Davao Oriental). It happened in England, where it was exhibited as an exotic animal and died three months later due to smallpox.

1661- 1871Japón – Periodo Edo a partir de la era Kanbun

Criminal tattoo drives decorative tattoo

The tattoo is used as a form of punishment to stigmatize criminals for more than 200 years in the Edo Period (1603-1868) in Japan. Then the expression irezumi (insert ink) began to be used to refer to tattoos for penal use. Usually they were people who had...Read More

1603Japón – Periodo Edo

Art and leisure for the working class

The Edo period (Tokugawa shogunate) begins, a feudal military dictatorship that will last until 1868. Japan is unified and the government of the shogun is consolidated in Edo, today Tokyo. This moment accompanies a growing economic expansion and a revival of Japanese art. Until then, art was reserved for the elite.Read More

457 - 479Japón – Império de Yūryaku Tennō

Follow the practice of tattooing as punishment

The Nihon Shoki (second oldest book on the history of Japan, published in the year 1720) recounts how Emperor Yūryaku Tennō punishes one of his servants with a tattoo on his face. References: Wikipedia

400 - 405Japón – Império de Richū Tennō

First accounts of the tattoo used as a penalty

The Nihon Shoki (second oldest book on the history of Japan, published in the year 1720) mentions the story "of the eye of Azumi", where the emperor Richū Tennō uses the tattoo as a penalty to punish a crime. References: Wikipedia


Chinese writer recounts Japanese tattoos

Chen Shou, a Chinese writer who lived between 233 and 297, mentions the tattoos of the inhabitants of Wa (Japan). He says that the Japanese tattooed their bodies and faces, and that the practice occurred between women and men, adults and children.


The first written mention of the Chinese about Japan cites tattoos

libro de han china

In the Book of Han (Chinese historical book concluded in the year 111) Japan is mentioned for the first time, then called by the Chinese as "country of Wa" and it is reported that the Japanese wear tattoos.

71 - 130Japón – Império de Keikō Tennō

The oldest Japanese writings speak of tattoos

Nihon Shoki

The first written sources originating in Japan are the Kojiki (year 712) and the Nihon Shoki (year 720) and they relate the existence of tattoos since the first century in Japan. It is worth remembering that the first review of the Nihon Shoki book mentions the tattoos of the Emishi people during the reign.Read More

400 a.C.Siberia

a tattooed princess

La princesa de Ukok - Una princesa tatuada

The Tattooed Princess of Ukok, also known as the Ice Lady or Altai Princess, was found in 1993 in Siberia (the border between Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan). This Scythian woman lived in the 5th century BC and features a very elaborate drawing that appears to be of a deer on..Read More

3351 a 3017 a.C.Egipto

Tattoos in ancient Egypt

Tattoos in ancient Egypt

Recent research shows that the mummies of the Gebelein man and woman have tattoos. These findings conclude that tattooing was practiced during the predynastic period of Egypt. Two animals with horns were identified for the man and four small drawings in the shape of...Read More

3255 a.C.Italia

Ötzi, the tattooed iceman

Ötzi the iceman remained frozen in the Italian Alps until 1991 when he was found by German climbers. Ötzi had various tattoos of parallel stripes and some of crosses.

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