Tattooing came to the California long before the white man. Judging from archaeological remains it seems that the first people wandered into what is now California 10,000 years ago. By studying the languages of the California tribes at the time of the European conquest it is believed that those early tribes migrated from northeastern United States, West Central Canada, and the Great Plains. The Ohlones and the Miwoks settled in the San Francisco Bay around 4,500 to 5,000 years ago and lived in relative peace for centuries.
The vast majority of the California tribes tattooed both men and women, although not necessarily with the same design or on the same part of the body or even for the same reason. As a matter of fact groups living only a ridge apart may develop totally distinctive tattoo designs.
San Francisco's first European visitor was Spanish explorer Don Gaspar de Portola in 1769. The first church, the Spanish Mission Dolores, was built in 1776, the same year the 13 colonies declared independence from England. By 1847, 850 people lived on the shores of San Francisco Bay, and one year later gold was discovered North East of San Francisco at Sutters Mill. Within another year the population was 25,000 strong and growing. By 1900, 342,782 people called San Francisco home. Professional tattooing probably came to San Francisco with this rush of humanity and to this day hasn’t left.
The 1848 Gold Rush undoubtedly put San Francisco on the world map, but that was only one of three major events that shaped this vibrant city. Second was the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. The Canal greatly shortened the sailing time from the Eastern United States and Europe. Third was World War II in the 1940s. Thousands of American soldiers and sailors passed through the city and later returned there to live. In addition many civilians came to help the war effort and remained as permanent residents.
With one of the largest natural bays in the world, San Francisco was shaped by it closeness to the ocean. During World War II San Francisco became one of the world's largest shipbuilding centers, thousands of military personnel were stationed in and around the city. This fact alone may have more to do with the strength of the tattoo business in San Francisco than anything else.
Below is a short list of tattooists that have inked in San Francisco over the last 150 years. Probably more have been left off than included, but this list will give you a starting point for more city research:
Berg, Tom - #537 Pacific
Broadbent, Betty - Market Street
Brooklyn Blackie - #1034 Market Street
Brown, William - Unknown
Bruns, Curt - #1134 Market Street
Dennis, Dean - #30 7th Street
Diamond, Charlie - Seattle Hotel
Eddy, C.J. - #1116 Market Street
Hasberg, Adolph - #537 Pacific
Hense, Chick - #936 Market Street
Ingermarson, V.F. - #725 Market Street
Irons, Greg - #471 Broadway
Jones, Davy - #30 7th Street
Kame, Hori - #545 DuPont Street
Kaufman, Duke - #1138 Market Street
Kidd, E.C. - #4 Embarcadero
La Palma - #2535 Van Ness
Libarry, Andy - #1034 Market Street
Londella, J. - #430 Dupont Street
Martynuik, Pat - #30 7th Street
Morgan, Louis - #41 Market Street
Nelson, Chris - #936 Market Street
Painless Nell - #725 Market Street
Shusho, F. - #531 Grant Avenue
Steelman, Prof. - #553 Kearney
Steiner, Ray - #30 7th Street
Thornton, Fred - #1134 Market Street
Tuttle, Lyle - #30 7th Street
Valentino, Al - #1034 Market Street
Wetzel, Walt - #1071 Market
Learn more about tattooing in San Francisco. Check out The History of San Francisco Tattooing in our online store.
Originally published by the Tattoo Archive © 1994