American Traditional, A Brief History

American Traditional, A Brief History

Much of todays traditional tattooing is influenced by European sailors who, dating back to at least the 16th century, collected tattoos at different ports around the globe. Tattoos didn’t catch on in the United States until around the 1940’s during WW2, and patriotic imagery naturally became popular during this time. A sailor earned each tattoo as a kind of badge for the turmoil of a long and treacherous journey at sea. A maritime solider might commemorate crossing the equator with a Shellback turtle, for instance. A lighthouse is still a popular design which symbolizes finding one's way home, hope, and guidance.

Another classic sailor's tattoo is that of a pig and rooster across the tops of the feet. According to legend, sailors would get these tattooed for good luck. Often, if a ship sank, it would be crates of pigs and roosters left floating in the water… It was believed that having a pair of one's own might prevent the sailor from drowning, too. 

During the post-war era, many nautical symbols became the symbols of American sailors. A man named Sailor Jerry from Honolulu made significant contributions to American Traditional tattooing, and still today you can see his sailor-style tattoo flash hanging on the walls of most tattoo shops. His influence holds prominent today in the well-developed tattoo industry. Naturally, designs have changed and expanded further since. Developments in traditional tattooing have coincided with its growth in the public sphere throughout the 20th century, influenced by artists like Lyle Tuttle, who were some of the first to truly promote traditional and tattoo the famous. More recently, American Traditional has accrued a celebrity of its own.

Candeeo with Lyle Tuttle, Seattle Tattoo Convention

While a lot of traditional tattoos concern seafaring and worldly travel, not all traditional work is limited to just this genre. American Traditional encompasses a broader style known for its bold lines and simplistic design. We like to think of it as a deconstructed picture; the bare, most striking necessities. The result is a bold image that will stand the test of time on the skin as we age, adventure, and explore. And as far as style, American Traditional will always remain a classic. 

Traditional-Styled Freddy Mercury

Classic Traditional Style Revolver

Sailor Jerry Eagle on top of the head

All works pictured by Candeeo. To see the whole portfolio, click here.

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