Larger Type
Smaller Type

Search Collections

Eletrical Tattooing

ca. 1920s-1930s Unidentified (American) painted wood with iron and brass trim and electrical fittings, tattooing needles and ink, paper card, labels, metal box, and glass bottles overall: 22 x 17 x 7 in. (55.9 x 43.2 x 17.7 cm) box: 20 7/8 x 14 3/8 x 7 in. (52.9 x 36.4 x 17.7 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr. and museum purchase made possible by Ralph Cross Johnson 1986.65.379 Not currently on view

Hear more about
Eletrical Tattooing

Luce Center Label

A New York tattoo artist, Samuel Reilly, invented the electric tattoo machine in 1891. He adapted Thomas Edison's design for an electric pen, in which a reciprocating motor powered a needle, to create a tattoo machine that was faster and less painful than previous hand methods. The machine needed to be portable because early American tattoo artists traveled constantly along the eastern seaboard, selling their craft to sailors at the different ports. Needles of various sizes, a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and a small bottle of tattoo ink appear inside this box.


Animal - reptile - snake

Object - flower - rose

Object - weapon - dagger

Object - written matter


folk art

metal - brass

metal - iron

readymade - electrical parts