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History of American Traditional Tattoos

American Traditional tattoos are a hot trend. But these tattoos dated back to the 19th century. Two big developments have revolutionized the tattoo industry so artists can document and solidify their style. These developments include the invention of the electric tattoo machine in 1891, as well as the distribution of flash sheets which were distributed by mail in addition to residing in portfolios and hanging on the walls of various tattoo parlors.

While the trend began in the 19th century, the style was indeed firmly established and found its voice in the Second World War. Most modern tattoos are inspired from this period instead of the first one.

The Most Common Early American Tattoos and Their Meaning
American Traditional Tattoo

Most of the traditional designs had a simple, direct and patriotic meaning meant to show love for America. Nautically themed tattoos might symbolize the sailor’s life on the ocean. Some of them were also used to showcase sailor’s experience. However, nautical stars and compasses could express a desire to “stay on track,” as well as a desire to survive and return home.

Many American traditional tattoos already dominate roses. They are a traditional symbol of love, like hearts. Swallows were also very popular. Swallows can symbolize freedom, or the desire of sailors to find their way home. Anchors were a reminder of all the things that remained constant in the life of a sailor.

Sharks were a symbol of courage, power, and ferocity. Other dangerous animals, such as snake and Panthers, may represent the ability of soldiers or sailors and the will to fight. These tattoos often have an efficient function and help to preserve life and limbs by intimidating viewers to prevent real fights. Skull, while similarly intimidating, more often represented a feeling that the wearer had come to terms with the possibility of death and was no longer afraid.

Of course, some tattoos do not have a universal symbolism. These would have been chosen just like tattoos chosen today … either because they meant something unique to the wearer, or because the bearer simply appreciated it. Hot girls, for example, were a trendy choice and served mostly as a form of portable art that could be enjoyed when access to women was rare, and other forms of art were not available.


American Traditional Tattoos In The Modern Era
American Traditional Tattoo designs

In modern times, the style has continued, but the subject matter has expanded. It is not unusual to see pop culture icons expressed in traditional styles, including references to Star Trek, Stars Wars, Disney and Marvel Comics. Banners with particular slogans, often nobler than their early 20th century counterparts, are also quite common.

Sometimes the images are a bit more morbid or disturbing. The face of pin-up girls can show stylized signs of rot as if the wearer were indicating a specific stylish zombie. The simple heart design can be replaced with an anatomically correct heart. Patriotic icons persist but sometimes rendered in a slightly ironic fashion, reflecting the cynicism and distrust for authority that has existed since the post-Cold War era.

Swallows, roses and other early American design choices and themes remain very popular. There is room for a lot more creativity and self-expression than ever before, without breaking or subverting the style.

Why Get an American Traditional Tattoos?

Making use of the traditional style offers a bold, artistic, and vintage flair to any design, and you don’t need to have a knack for creating them yourself. A custom tattoo design will help you create an image that is most representative of the things you are trying to express.

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