Before the invention of modern xerographic copy machines, there was no easy way to make a copy of a document. Legendary inventor Thomas Edison attempted to find a solution in the 1870s, and he received a patent for the first electric pen, called the Autographic Printing Pen, in 1876. Using a small motor to drive a needle up and down the shaft of a pen, Edison was able to create a stencil of his original work. Voilà, instant copy. But the idea never took off, and Edison moved on to other projects. In 1891, however, New York City tattoo artist Samuel O’Reilly retrofitted Edison’s blueprints to create the first electric tattoo machine.
A better way to tattoo:
- O’Reilly’s machine allowed tattoo artists to perforate a client's skin more than 50 times a second, much faster than the standard two or three times a second that they were able to achieve by hand.
- O’Reilly’s patent application explained that his machine was a modification of Edison’s idea, but it didn’t make him rich. He continued inking at his New York City shop until his death in 1908.
- Edison was a prolific inventor, holding an astounding 1,093 U.S. patents. His ideas include the light bulb, phonograph, motion picture camera, stock ticker, and a mechanical vote recorder.