Thomas Edison had a Tattoo Before It Was Cool

Yes, Thomas Edison had a tattoo. It was an image known as a quincunx-four dots arranged in a square, with a single dot in the middle – the way the number five is portrayed on a dice cube. It was inscribed on his right forearm. The only catch is no one knows how the tattoo got there. There is no mention of it in the vast Edison archives. Did he tattoo himself? We’ll never know.

Thomas Edison had a similar 5 dot tattoo on his forearm.

Edison did not invent the tattoo pen, he did invent the electric pen in 1875 with the assistance of Charles Batchelor. The pen-like shaft had a reciprocating needle that was driven by a small motor powered by a wet-cell battery. As the user wrote or drew on a wax stencil, the needle made thousands of perforations per minute. The stencil was then placed in a press, and a roller forced ink through the holes, creating multiple copies (up to 15,000 according to Edison’s advertisements).

Thomas Edison’s patent (180,857) for the electric pen AKA Autographic printing.

Humans have been decorating their skin for thousands of years, so the idea to use a similar pen to make the process easier seemed natural. The electric pen would later evolve into the tattoo pen invented in 1891 by Samuel O’Reilly. Today’s tattoo pens and guns are much improved, moving the needle anywhere between 50 and 3000 times per minute to deliver the beautiful tattoo designs that many people desire, creating a genre of art known as “body art”.

In fact, more people than you may think have tattoos inspired by Thomas Edison that they love to share on social media. It’s amazing how science and art can come together so beautifully! Below is a gallery of some of our favorite Edison-inspired tattoos:


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