Samuel O'Reilly

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Samuel F. O'Reilly
BornMay 1854
DiedApril 29, 1909(1909-04-29) (aged 54)
Resting placeHoly Cross Cemetery, Brooklyn
OccupationTattoo artist
Known forInvented the rotary tattoo machine

Samuel F. O’Reilly (May 1854 - 29 April 1909) was an American tattoo artist from New York, who patented the first electric tattoo machine on December 8, 1891.[1]


O’Reilly was born in Waterbury, New Haven County, Connecticut, to Irish immigrants Thomas O’Reilly and Mary Ann Hurley in May 1854.[2]

He began tattooing in New York around the mid-1880s, probably mentored by Martin Hildebrandt.[2] O'Reilly's machine was based on the rotary technology of Thomas Edison's autographic printing pen.[3] Although O'Reilly held the first patent for an electric tattoo machine, tattoo artists had been experimenting with and modifying a variety of different machines prior to the issuance of the patent. O'Reilly's first pre-patent tattoo machine was a modified dental plugger, which he used to tattoo several dime museum attractions for exhibition between the years 1889 and 1891.[1] From the late 1880s on, tattoo machines continually evolved into the modern tattoo machine.[1]

O'Reilly first owned a shop at #5 Chatham Square on the New York Bowery. In 1904, he moved to #11 Chatham Square when the previous tenant, tattoo artist Elmer Getchell, left the city.[1] Charles Wagner was allegedly apprenticed to O'Reilly and later assumed ownership of his #11 Chatham Square shop.[4]

On April 29, 1909, Samuel O'Reilly fell while painting his house and died.[5] He is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d Nyssen, Carmen Forquer (October 5, 2015). "Early Tinkerers of Electric Tattooing". Buzzworthy Tattoo History. Retrieved 2022-06-05.
  2. ^ a b Nyssen, Carmen. "Samuel F. O'Reilly". Buzzworthy Tattoo History. Retrieved 2022-06-05.
  3. ^ "Samuel O'Reilly". Starlight Tattoo: Tattoo History. 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-11-12. Retrieved 2007-09-17.
  4. ^ "Tattoos in the USA". The Vanishing Tattoo. Retrieved 2022-06-05.
  5. ^ "Samuel O'Reilly". Tattoo Archive. 2017. Retrieved 2022-06-05.
  6. ^ Cavanaugh, Ray (2016-03-25). "O'Reilly's Tattoo Machine: Fine Art for the Masses". Irish America. Retrieved 2022-06-05.