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Samuel O'Reilly

Sketch of O'Reilly Tattooing

Illustration of what O'Reilly may have looked like,
to date no photographs of him are known to exist.

Little has been written about Samuel O’Reilly, and most of what is known about this New York City tattooist comes from newspaper articles and the 1933 book Tattoo, Secrets of a Strange Art as Practised by the Natives of the United States by Albert Parry. Parry described O’Reilly as an Irish immigrant who holds the honor of patenting the first tattoo machine in the United States. The year was 1891 and O'Reilly was already a well established tattooist in New York City, having arrived around 1875.

O'Reilly pattent

Copy of the 1891 patent that Samuel
O'Reilly was issued

It is unclear if O'Reilly was able to capitalize on his patent idea,. Only one of the machines is known to exist and it is without the unique tube assembly. There is no information on O'Reilly ever selling this machine or operating a supply business.

After Samuel O'Reilly was issued his patent, many sideshow and circus attractions came to him for additions to their collections, as well as tatooing lots of new attractions, including John Hayes, Frank & Emma deBurgh, Calavan, George Mellivan and Annie Howard, to name a few. Folks in the show business world thought that his electric machine was faster and produced cleaner work.

Samuel O'Reilly operated a shop on Broadway and the Bowery in New York City but it was at #11 Chatham Square where he made his name. The famous #11 Chatham Square shop was not much more than an over-sized closet in the back of a barber shop.

O'Reilly operated out of this space for several years, and his student Charlie Wagner carried on there until his death in 1953. There are also stories of O'Reilly working the summer crowds on the famed Stillwell Ave. of Coney Island.

Albert Parry stated that Samuel O'Reilly died in 1908 from a fall while painting his home in Brooklyn, NY.

Rock of Ages Postcard

Rock of Ages design by O'Reilly

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