A Short History Of The American Tattoo Tradition
Start writing a post

A Short History Of The American Tattoo Tradition

Tattoos are incredibly popular today in America---but where did it all start?

A Short History Of The American Tattoo Tradition

Tattooing is an art form, and while the style and meaning varies vastly throughout different cultures, the overall purpose of tattoos is generally similar: to show identity. From the 2000+ year-old Samoan practice of tattooing intricate patterns with very specific cultural meaning, to Japanese Irezumi tattooing which held decorative, spiritual, or societal purpose, body art has held a special place in many cultures. While the tradition of tattoos has existed in other cultures for hundreds and thousands of years, American tattoo tradition is relatively new.

American tattoo tradition began primarily with sailors. After the American Revolution, United States sailors cultivated a culture of tattooing for several reasons. One main reason was to ensure that they had defining, distinguishing marks on their bodies. British ships forcibly took American sailors to the British Navy if they could not identify them as American. One way to avoid this was by having a specific tattoo that proved they were who they claimed to be. Additionally, sailors received tattoos in their voyages to foreign countries with a rich tattoo culture such as Japan and Pacific Islands; this solidified their identity by reminding themselves of where they had been, or of their lives back home.

For a while, tattoos remained out of the mainstream American culture, and was found mainly on the bodies of those on the fringes of society: bikers, soldiers, criminals, gang members, and circus freaks. Body art was considered distasteful.

After the 1970s, this quickly began to change. Americans’ attitudes towards tattoos began to rapidly flip with the rise of punk and counterculture movements. Associated with rebelliousness and anarchy, tattoos grew in popularity and the harshly negative view towards them softened. However, tattoos did not become mainstream until the 2000's.

In 1991, 21 percent of Americans had tattoos. 14 years later, this number doubled to 40 percent Tattoos were no longer associated with particular subcultures or fringe classes of society. As a result, the demand for tattoos and artists grew immensely. The number of tattooed Americans grew more rapidly in the past 20 years than during any other time in American history. With so many artists, new styles and techniques arose. Dotwork, stippling, black and grey, and realism are all popular styles of tattoo that vary widely in their appearances. Additionally, many American tattoo artists draw inspiration from Japanese and tribal tattoo traditions in their work.

Traditional American tattoos (also known as Sailor Jerry or "old-school" tattoos) are still extremely popular and considered in-style. Neo-traditional tattoos that combine old-school flash art style with new techniques and improved quality are also very popular. America's tradition of inking may have come later than many other cultures, but the American traditional tattoo style shows no sign of going out of style any time soon.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
the beatles
Wikipedia Commons

For as long as I can remember, I have been listening to The Beatles. Every year, my mom would appropriately blast “Birthday” on anyone’s birthday. I knew all of the words to “Back In The U.S.S.R” by the time I was 5 (Even though I had no idea what or where the U.S.S.R was). I grew up with John, Paul, George, and Ringo instead Justin, JC, Joey, Chris and Lance (I had to google N*SYNC to remember their names). The highlight of my short life was Paul McCartney in concert twice. I’m not someone to “fangirl” but those days I fangirled hard. The music of The Beatles has gotten me through everything. Their songs have brought me more joy, peace, and comfort. I can listen to them in any situation and find what I need. Here are the best lyrics from The Beatles for every and any occasion.

Keep Reading...Show less
Being Invisible The Best Super Power

The best superpower ever? Being invisible of course. Imagine just being able to go from seen to unseen on a dime. Who wouldn't want to have the opportunity to be invisible? Superman and Batman have nothing on being invisible with their superhero abilities. Here are some things that you could do while being invisible, because being invisible can benefit your social life too.

Keep Reading...Show less

19 Lessons I'll Never Forget from Growing Up In a Small Town

There have been many lessons learned.

houses under green sky
Photo by Alev Takil on Unsplash

Small towns certainly have their pros and cons. Many people who grow up in small towns find themselves counting the days until they get to escape their roots and plant new ones in bigger, "better" places. And that's fine. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought those same thoughts before too. We all have, but they say it's important to remember where you came from. When I think about where I come from, I can't help having an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for my roots. Being from a small town has taught me so many important lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Keep Reading...Show less
​a woman sitting at a table having a coffee

I can't say "thank you" enough to express how grateful I am for you coming into my life. You have made such a huge impact on my life. I would not be the person I am today without you and I know that you will keep inspiring me to become an even better version of myself.

Keep Reading...Show less
Student Life

Waitlisted for a College Class? Here's What to Do!

Dealing with the inevitable realities of college life.

college students waiting in a long line in the hallway

Course registration at college can be a big hassle and is almost never talked about. Classes you want to take fill up before you get a chance to register. You might change your mind about a class you want to take and must struggle to find another class to fit in the same time period. You also have to make sure no classes clash by time. Like I said, it's a big hassle.

This semester, I was waitlisted for two classes. Most people in this situation, especially first years, freak out because they don't know what to do. Here is what you should do when this happens.

Keep Reading...Show less

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Facebook Comments