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Tattoo Tuesday

November 8, 2022

Today tattoos seem to be ubiquitous. Not so. Here are a number of historical figures whom, you may not have realized, sported tattoos – including Thomas Edison who developed the electric pen that led tattooing into the modern age.

1. THOMAS EDISON

Tattoos would never have taken off if Edison’s patented “electric pen” hadn’t paved the way for the first tattoo gun. So it’s only fitting that he had a quincunx, a geometric pattern of five dots, inked on his forearm.

2. GEORGE ORWELL

The 1984 author also saw spots. His were bright blue and tattooed on his knuckles. The dots were supposedly a bit of youthful rebellion from Orwell’s days as a policeman in colonial Burma.

3. JAMES K. POLK

America’s 11th president annexed Texas, but he had another legacy that was just as lasting: starting the trend of Chinese-character tattoos. Polk’s ink translated as “eager,” or so he was told.

4. OLIVER HARDY

The more robust of the Laurel and Hardy comedy duo sported a maple leaf tattoo on his right arm that he acquired at the age of 14. His mother was so angry over this bit of adolescent defiance that she reportedly attacked the tattooist.

5. ANDREW JACKSON

The notoriously cranky Jackson was never one to bury the hatchet, but he did have a tomahawk inked on his inner thigh.

6. DOROTHY PARKER

The sharp-tongued writer sported a small blue star near her elbow as a memento of a drunken night in the 1930s.

7. WINSTON CHURCHILL

As of 2012, the U.K. holds the title of the world’s most tattooed nation, and the trend goes back ages. Even Churchill sported some body art: an anchor on his forearm.

8. BARRY GOLDWATER

Longtime senator Barry “Mr. Conservative” Goldwater adorned his hand with a crescent moon and four dots, the trademark of the Smoki People, an Arizona organization dedicated to preserving Native American culture.

9. CZAR NICHOLAS II

In 1891, Nicholas II of Russia visited Japan to improve Russo-Japanese relations. He survived an assassination attempt on his trip, but he also came home with a souvenir: a colorful dragon on his right arm.

10. KING HAROLD II

Royal tattoos have been around longer than you’d think. After England’s Harold II emerged as the big loser at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, his allies identified his body using his ink, including his wife’s name, Edith, scrawled across his heart.

This story by Amanda Green, originally appeared in Wired magazine.

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