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Tattoo Timeline

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3200 B.C.
Ötzi, who would become the world’s oldest mummy, gets a tattoo: about 60 lines and crosses on his lower spine, right knee, and ankle joints.

Third Century A.D.
In the late 200s, Japanese men are elaborately decorating their entire bodies.

1769
Captain James Cook sails into Tahiti and discovers Polynesian tattoos, along with the island’s word for the art form: tatau.

1846
Martin Hildebrandt sets up New York’s first tattoo shop on Oak Street in lower Manhattan.

1891
New Yorker Samuel O’Reilly patents the first electric tattoo machine, a modification of Thomas Edison’s perforating pen.

1944
In one of the first instances of legal trouble for the tattoo world, Charlie Wagner is fined by the city of New York for not sterilizing his needles.

1961
The New York City Health Department bans tattooing after a hepatitis-B scare.

1974
Don Ed Hardy opens Realistic Tattoo in San Francisco, the first custom-only, appointment-only studio in the U.S.

1979
The three-year-old National Tattoo Association organizes the first National Convention of tattoo artists and fans, in Denver.

April 1984
Inventor Keith Relyea and 3M develop and patent a temporary tattoo that lasts longer and looks better than previous food-coloring-based versions.

1992
The Alliance of Professional Tattooists, a nonprofit founded to address the tattoo industry’s health and safety issues, is established.


1994
Johnny Depp
changes his former proclamation of love to “Wino Forever.”

February 1997
New York passes a bill legalizing tattooing by a vote of 38 to 7. Officials estimate that 50 tattooists had been operating illegally in the previous few years.

May 1997
New York holds its first tattoo convention.

1999
Mattel releases Butterfly Art Barbie, a doll with washable body art.

December 2004
The launch of Ed Hardy Vintage Tattoo Wear, a clothing line featuring the artwork of the famed tattooist.

September 2005
9/11-memorial
tattoos become a distinct genre at tattoo competitions.

February 2006
Paul Booth, the first tattooist to be invited to join the National Arts Club, opens a high-end tattoo atelier in Chelsea.

May 2007
Brad Pitt gets a tattoo of Ötzi the mummy.


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