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The History of Tattoos in New York, from Bowery Sensation to Banned Art

Publisher: 
Hyperallergic
Date: 
April 6, 2017
Tattooing in New York has been a sideshow attraction, a banned underground practice, and an elite society trend. Performers in the early 1900s Bowery dime museums boasted wild tales of forced tattoos at the hands of “Indians,” while in the late 19th century, they were a fad with fashionable ladies, who got Japanese-style dragons and flowers inked in discreet places. Thomas Edison pioneered an electric pen in 1875, supposedly trying out some dots on himself in the process (although it was intended for reproducing documents). Then, just under a century later, in 1961, the city’s health department declared that it was “unlawful for any person to tattoo a human being.” The rule referenced several cases of Hepatitis B, but was likely meant to smooth the city’s rough edges ahead of the 1964 World’s Fair — never mind that the fully tattooed Betty Broadbent had been a star in the beauty pageant of the 1939 World’s Fair. Tattooed New York at the New-York Historical Society explored this complex history chronologically, emphasizing Gotham’s centrality in the development of the medium. Read more…
Creative: Tronvig Group