What Is the History of American Traditional Tattoos?

American Traditional tattoos, also known as old-school tattoos, have a rich history that dates back to the late 19th century. These tattoos are characterized by bold, thick lines and bright colors. They often feature iconic images such as anchors, skulls, and eagles.

The Origins of American Traditional Tattoos

American Traditional tattoos can be traced back to the work of Samuel O’Reilly, a tattoo artist who patented the first electric tattoo machine in 1891. This invention revolutionized the art of tattooing and allowed for more precise and efficient designs.

In the early 20th century, American Traditional tattoos became popular among sailors and soldiers. Many servicemen would get tattoos as a way to commemorate their time spent at sea or on the battlefield.

The Iconography of American Traditional Tattoos

One of the defining features of American Traditional tattoos is their use of iconic imagery. These designs often incorporate nautical themes such as anchors, ships, and mermaids. Other popular images include eagles, snakes, skulls, and roses.

The bold lines and bright colors used in American Traditional tattoos make these designs instantly recognizable. The heavy use of black ink also helps to give these tattoos a classic feel.

The Revival of American Traditional Tattoos

In the 1960s and 70s, American Traditional tattoos fell out of favor as new styles such as Japanese-style tattooing gained popularity. However, in recent years there has been a resurgence in interest in these classic designs.

Many modern tattoo artists have taken inspiration from traditional American tattoos and put their own spin on these timeless designs. This has helped to keep this style relevant for a new generation of tattoo enthusiasts.


American Traditional tattoos have a rich history that spans over a century. From their origins with Samuel O’Reilly’s electric tattoo machine to their popularity among sailors and soldiers, these tattoos have become a cultural icon.

With their bold lines and vibrant colors, American Traditional tattoos continue to be popular today. Whether you’re looking to get your first tattoo or add to your existing collection, this classic style is sure to stand the test of time.