Tattooing Was Illegal Until 1997

In 1961, it officially became illegal to give someone a tattoo in…


New York City. But Thom deVita didn’t let this new restriction deter him from inking people. The day after it was put into law, the tattoo artist quietly opened the doors of his tattoo shop in Alphabet City, then one of the grittiest neighborhoods in the area. So what exactly caused the city to crack down on tattoos in the first place? After all, isn’t New York City where people go to express their individuality. “[The city claimed that there was] an outbreak of hepatitis B, while others suspected it was because the city wanted to clean up before the [1964] World’s Fair. There’s also supposedly a love story involving a city official and one of the tattooer’s wives, and that kind of turns into a personal vendetta-never boring in NYC.


Beginning with Native North-Americans, specifically the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) tribe, who resided on the same land where the city now sits. Tribal members believed that tattoos had healing powers and provided protection from evil, and they would apply them by cutting into the skin and sprinkling soot or crushed minerals into the wound. They also used tattoos as a form of identification. Sailors, for example, another group of tattoo aficionados, started getting their initials inked onto their skin at some point in the 1700s. These distinctive tattoos were then recorded in their personal information which were used as identification and to help stave off impressment. Fast forward to 1936, the year in which the U.S. government introduced Social Security Numbers, and some citizens came up with a clever way to remember their information.


Today, tattoos are no longer seen as the taboo that they once were, and have become firmly planted within North-American society. Everyone from teachers to lawyers to museum curators sport them. New York City is home to more than 270 tattoo studios today. “You get to see artwork being made,” “It’s pretty amazing.” you too may be inspired to get inked-and you don’t have to go to NYC-but it’s fun, the City that is.


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