“A tattoo is a true poetic creation, and is always more than meets the eye. As a tattoo is grounded on living skin, so its essence emotes a poignancy unique to the mortal human condition.”—V. “Valhalla” Vale.
Tattoos are a man’s best friend. Wait—sorry, that’s dogs. Tattoos are a women’s best friend. Whoops, got it wrong again, sorry, that’s diamonds. Hm. Well, then. Tattoos may not be a best friend, but they certainly are one of the only things that will stick around with you, through thick and thin, until the end. Tattoos have a long history and have gone in and out of vogue, but it seems like they’re now more popular than ever. Some people get them for memories and to tell their story, some people get them to feel the pain and become addicted, and some people just think they’re cool. One thing is for certain though, tattoos are a part of human culture and are here to stay.
40. Royal Trends
The tattoo renaissance didn’t happen until the middle of the 20th century, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t trendy anytime before then, as English and Russian royalty would often get tattoos between the 18th to 20th centuries. During these times, tattoos were quite expensive and therefore exclusive, but once they became affordable for commoners, the royalty dropped the practice and instead derided commoners for their tattoos.
39. Battle Of The Sexes
In the United States, there are more tattooed women than men. That is according to a recent survey at least, which found that 23% of women were tattooed as compared to 19% of men. But just as women are most likely to get tattooed, they are also more likely to have it removed.
38. Putting The Gun Together
A modern tattoo gun consists of four different components. First, there is the essential needle. Second, a tube to hold the ink for the needle to tattoo into the skin. Third, an electric motor to run the needle and propel it to pierce the skin between 50 to 3,000 times per minute. Finally, there is a foot pedal to control the motor.
37. Diamonds Are Forever
For only $924,000, you can get a tattoo with 612 half carat diamonds instead of ink. If you do go and get this extremely expensive tattoo done, you’d be the first to take the artists up on the offer. How surprising!
36. Vegan Tattoos
A lot of tattoo inks are also made out of soot ashes from burnt animal bones. The resin from shellac beetles was also widely used. This explains why there has been a surge in demands in recent times for vegan tattoo ink.
35. Decoding Sailor Tattoos
Sailors and tattoos have been somewhat synonymous with each other, but do you know what their tattoos mean? We will give two examples for a peek into the culture. An anchor means that the Atlantic Ocean has been crossed, while a turtle represented a crossing of the equator.
34. Barbie Ban
Barbie tried to get trendy and for a stretch of time, you could actually buy a tattooed Barbie doll. Known as “Butterfly Art Barbie”, she was released with a butterfly tattoos on her abdomen but he lifespan proved to be short as there was a backlash from parents who didn’t want their children to be influenced by tattooed dolls.
33. Tattoo Gun Inventor
The man who invented the precursor to the modern tattoo gun—the autographic printer—was none other than the United States’ most famed inventor, Thomas Edison. Samuel O’Reilly would go on to invent the first tattoo machine and eventually even Edison got tattooed! His piece was a geometric quincunx on his forearm.
32. From Rags to Riches
Before Rowland Macy founded his Macy’s department store, he spent time on the seas as a whaler. During his time whaling, he had a star tattoo which helped guide him and this tattoo would later be the inspiration for the logo of his company.
31. Guiding Angel Watching Over Your Heart
The most popular tattoos in the world. You know what they are? You don’t have to think too hard, as they aren’t the most surprising. One is the heart. The other is angel motifs. Surely this is helped by the fact that many people have tattoos that incorporate both of these symbols.
30. Ancient Recipe
One of the oldest known recorded tattoo formulas in the world consists of six ingredients: Egyptian pine bark, corroded bronze, vinegar, vitriol, leek juice, and insect eggs.
29. No Tattoo For You
The art of tattooing is still illegal in three countries. These countries are Iran, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.
28. Copyright Tattoos
Getting all 101 Dalmatians tattooed on you is a big commitment, but that was nothing for George C. Reiger Jr., as the man has over 1,000 Disney character tattoos across his body. This wasn’t that easy for him to do, however, as he had to receive permission from the company itself because all of the images are copyrighted.
27. Confucius Say No
Stone sculptures in China that date all the way back to the 3rd century BCE depict men with face tattoos. But, of course, there were people who frowned upon them, like Confucius, who believed that the human body is a gift and that tattoos were a desecration of this gift.
26. Platonic Punishment
The views of tattoos from the ancient Chinese to the ancient Greeks were certainly extreme—while Confucius believed tattoos to be a defilement of the human body, Plato believed that people that were judged guilty of sacrilege should be forced down and tattooed. Yeesh, Plato, why so serious?
25. Full Body Suit
Lucky Diamond Rich is the world’s most tattooed person. With 99.9% of his body tatted up, Rich has had over 1,000 hours of work done on him and has everywhere from his mouth to foreskin tattooed. Though, just as he wasn’t born with those tattoos, he wasn't born with that name. His real name is Gregory Paul McLaren. But, c’mon, that’s too boring a name for the world’s most tattooed human.
24. Spotted Man
Before Rich was the most tattooed human alive, the distinction belonged to Tom Leppard, better known as Leopard Man. Why was he called Leopard Man you ask? Well, because he had his entire body tattooed with Leopard spots. Not for any kinship with the big cats, but rather because it was easy for artists to do on a grand scale.
23. Emperor’s Fun
The crazed Roman Emperor Caligula was known to have some fun by ordering certain members of his court that he didn’t particularly care for to be tattooed. In Greece, the Emperor Theophilus once got his payback on two dissident monks by having obscene verses tattooed on their foreheads. These monks each ended up with 11 verses engraved on their heads.
22. Billion Dollar Industry
In the United States alone, people spend about $1.65 billion per year on tattoos. The United States may spend the most money on tattoos, but according to a recent survey, the country where tattoos are most popular is actually Italy, with about 48% of people having at least one piece.
21. Mummies Got ‘Em Too
The first known symbolic tattoos to be found on human remains are that of the Egyptian god of revelry, Bes. Depictions of Bes have been found on Egyptian mummies which date back to 400 BCE. Before that, tattoos seem to have been abstract and geometric patterns drawn out on the body. So far, all the tattooed mummies found were females.
We’ve all seen our fair share of misspelled tattoos, but surprise! The word tattoo is also one of the most misspelled words in the entire English language.
19. No Nudes
During World War II, many of the United States Navy sailors had to cover up their tattoos. Though sailors are famous for their extensive tattoo work, they were forced to cover up because the US Navy had decided to ban any tattoos of naked women.
18. For The Family
Billy Gibby was a father of five and struggling to keep a roof over his family’s heads. After being let go from his job in 2003, he came up with the idea to sell his body space to businesses. Now known as the Human Billboard, his body is covered in sponsored tattoos, including a porn logo on his face for which he was paid £17,000. He even changed his name to Hostgator Dotcom. However, over the years he became depressed, and now that he has a steady job, he is getting them removed, one by one.
17. Mile High Club
Drummer Tommy Lee is famous for many things. From Mötley Crüe to Pamela Anderson to...well, you know, but what you probably didn’t know is that he was also the first person to be tattooed while flying.
16. Inked Presidents
There are a bunch of Presidents who were tattooed. Theodore Roosevelt had his family crest on his chest, Andrew Jackson had a tomahawk on his inner thigh, and James Polk had Chinese characters. Other leaders who were tattooed were Czar Nicholas II and even Winston Churchill.
15. To Strike The Skin
Joseph Banks, a naturalist who was with Captain James Cooks’ Polynesian expedition, was the first to use the word tattoo. It was derived from the Polynesian word “ta” which meant to strike and described the sound the needle made when it hit the skin during the ceremony.
14. Parent Panic
The panic that was caused by the disappearance of the Lindbergh baby in 1932 led many parents to tattoo their children, just in case.
13. Good Deeds
Vinnie Myers is a tattoo artist who put his talent to a cause. He specializes in creating 3D nipple tattoos for breast cancer survivors.
12. Love At First Tattoo
Meeting someone in person for the first time that you’ve been talking to online can be scary. But not for Lesya Toumaniantz, who allowed her now husband, and tattoo artist, Rouslan Toumaniantz to tattoo his name across her face the first time they met. And when we say across, we mean fully across in 5-inch Gothic style letters. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because it 2009 he was accused of tattooing 56 stars on the face of an 18-year-old girl while she was asleep, though she would later recant the story and let him off the hook.
11. New World Tattoos
The first tattoo artist in the United States is believed to be the mysterious Martin Hildebrandt, a German immigrant who set up shop in the Bowery of Manhattan in the late 19th century. While he is known as a pioneer, there is little to none surviving evidence of much of his life, let alone his work.
10. Never Forget
Believe it or not, some people who are descendants of Holocaust survivors have taken to getting their family member’s concentration camp numbers tattooed on their own body. They claim it is to memorialize their history.
9. Roman Stamp
We know that the Roman Empire did not play around and some slaves learned the painful way. After learning to tattoo from the Greeks, who learned it from the Persians, Romans would tattoo “fug” on the forehead of some slaves in order to brand them. This was also learned from the Greeks who would engrave criminals with tattoos.
8. Oldest Tattoo
Remember Ötzi? Well, you should, as he is the oldest known natural mummy to have been found. Ötzi the Iceman was special, not just because he was naturally preserved over 5,000 years ago, but because he even had tattoos—61 to be exact. That makes him the oldest known tattooed body to have been found. It is believed that these tattoos were a form of pain relief, akin to modern-day acupuncture, but it is still debated.
7. How Old Can You Go
Ötzi the Iceman may be the oldest tattooed body we know of, but evidence of the earliest tattoos goes all the way back to the last Ice Age. In Scandinavia, France, and Portugal, archeologists uncovered tools that they believe to have been used for tattooing that date back 12,000 years.
6. Banned In The Five Boroughs
Out of all places, tattoos were banned from New York City for nearly 40 years late in the 20th century. From the years 1961 to 1997, it was illegal to get inked anywhere in the city that never sleeps. This was because of a Hepatitis B outbreak that scared the city away from the art form.
5. Hepatitis Cover Up
According to some in New York, blaming an outbreak of Hepatitis B for the ban on tattooing in the city was actually just a cover-up. Instead, two major prevailing theories persist: that the mayor of the city, Robert F. Wagner Jr., thought that banning tattooing would help clean up the city in preparation for the 1964 World’s Fair and that the health inspector had a vendetta against an artist in the Bowery. Whatever the case was, it sure didn’t stop the practice of tattooing in the city and one underground shop from that era is still around. Named Fineline Tattoo, this Manhattan parlor opened up in 1976 and survived 21 years of the ban.
4. NYC Style
Due to the ban on tattooing in the famed city, a unique style developed in the underground that helped distinguish the city, as trained artists turned their attention to the scene and helped it develop distinctly.
3. What’s In The Ink
Today, tattoo ink is usually made by combining pigments with a carrier. These pigment bases are made from rusts and metals, the way many dyes are, but that doesn’t mean that some people don’t resort to some DIY tactics for their homemade tats. Homemade traditional inks can be made from dirt, blood, or urine.
2. Covering Up
The most tattooed woman in the world was Julia Gnuse, AKA The Illustrated Lady. In her mid-30s, she developed porphyria, a rare condition that causes the skin to blister whenever it comes in contact with direct sunlight and she was desperate for a way to stop the blisters. Eventually, she turned to tattoos. After getting a good amount of her body done, she realized it didn’t prevent the blisters, but it did hide her scars. So, she kept on getting her favorite illustrations and cartoons, and before she knew it, 95% of her body was tattooed. Sadly, she passed away in 2016.
1. Zombie Boy
After surviving brain surgery to remove a tumor when he was just a teenager, a young man by the name of Rick Genest decided to begin living life to its fullest. He got his first tattoo at 16, and soon began getting the distinctive skull designs that wound up covering the skin on his head and face, earning him the nickname “Zombie Boy.” He ended up with over 90% of his skin tattooed and held records for having the most tattoos of bones, as well as the most tattoos of insects. His distinctive look earned him a place in multiple fashion campaigns and Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” music video. Tragically, he recently died at the age of 32.