Tattoos from the Bowery has its origins in a place that many know from Martin Scorsese’s epic historical drama “Gangs of New York” – the Bowery in southern Manhattan.
The Bowery borders Chinatown, Little Italy, the Lower East Side and the East Village. This is why the area has always been considered a cultural hub in New York. Already in the 19th century the Bowery was teeming with sailors, soldiers and other strays. Nevertheless (or mainly because of it) the New York tattoo history originated there.
Martin Hildebrandt therefore opened the first tattoo studio in the USA also in this area. The German immigrant Hildebrandt went to sea for more than 30 years, explored the tattoo cultures of the world on his travels and learned how to tattoo from Alf Harrington during that time. In 1858 – one year after the historic riots in the Five Points – he opened the first tattoo studio in the USA in southern Manhattan.
Just like Hildebrandt, Edwin Thomas and Stephen Lee settled as tattoo artists in New York at that time. Together with Hildebrandt they laid the foundation for a new art form in the USA – the art of tattooing. That is why New York’s tattoo history is considered synonymous with the history of tattooing in the USA. But the Bowery area was not only an iconic place for New York’s tattoo history. There was the legendary CBGB club in this area too until it closed in 2006. CBGB is the birthplace of punk rock and has long been the living room of New York’s punk and hardcore scene.
The Bowery was the heart of tattooing
Besides the pioneers Hildebrandt, Thomas and Lee, Samuel O’Riley is probably one of the most important figures in New York’s tattoo history. O’Riley patented the first electric tattoo machine in 1891 and is therefore also called the father of electric tattooing.
After his death, his pupil Charlie Wagner took over the shop at N°11 Chatham Square. 1904 Wagner received the patent for the first electric coil tattoo machine. This is still the most used machine in the tattoo world.
Wagner helped to make the clear and strong tattoos from the Bowery better known. He created classic designs such as eagles, crosses and ships and is considered the most important influence of the classic American tattoo style – the traditional old school tattoo. In any case, Wagner is an icon in New York’s tattoo history. Until his death in 1953 he had a decisive influence on it.
In 1940 Willi Moskowitz became Wagner´s pupil and took over his shop after his death. Moskowitz turned his tattoo studio into a family business and his two sons, Walter and Stanley, into tattoo artists. Walter and Stanley Moskowitz later made a name for themselves in New York’s tattoo scene as “The Bowery Boys”. More and more often long lines formed in front of their tattoo studio. The traditional old school tattoo became more and more popular and accepted.
The “Bowery Boys” were just a few of the many icons from the Bowery area and New York tattoo history.
In later years, the tattoo scene in New York was influenced by other NYC pioneers such as Huck Spaulding, Brooklyn Blackie, Coney Island Freddie and Bill Jones – and this despite a legal ban on practice in the USA, which had existed in New York for over 30 years from 1961 onwards.
We have at Good Old Times Tattoos in Berlin a particularly beautiful book with Tattoos from the Bowery. After Corona, we look forward to snack and coffee with you. Stay healthy and see you very soon.
Your Good Old Times Tattoo Team