Daredevil Tattoo Is Trying to Build a Tattoo History Museum in Chinatown

June 9, 2015 | Prachi Gupta

New York City has a long and storied history with tattoos. German immigrant and sailor Martin Hildebrandt, who is credited with opening the first tattoo parlor in the country, set up shop in Manhattan in 1846. In 1891, a New Yorker named Samuel O’Reilly patented a modified version of Thomas Edison’s pen, creating the first electric tattoo machine. Decades later, Bowery-based tattoo artist Charlie Wagner became infamous for his 25-cent tattoos and in 1944, was fined by the city “in one of the first instances of legal trouble for the tattoo world…for not sterilizing his needles,” according to New York Magazine. In the 1960s, New York banned the practice of tattoo art after a hepatitis B outbreak. The ban lasted several decades, until it was lifted in 1997. That year, Daredevil Tattoo opened in the Lower East Side.

Brad Fink and Michelle Myles, who co-own Daredevil Tattoo, have been researching tattoo history in New York and now want to set up a museum in their new space on Division Street. They were forced to move two years ago, when rent increased by 50%, and bought the Chinatown storefront. They already have artifacts from Hildebrandt, O’Reilly and Edison, as well as designs made by Wagner. What they still need, according to a newly launched Kickstarter campaign, is $30,000 to help create the archival space, finish signage, and install a crush penny machine.

“This is the birthplace of modern tattooing,” says Myles in the video. She means that quite literally, as the Daredevil shop and future museum is “just a few blocks from where I’m sitting right now.”

“We’re really hoping to be a global destination for the tattoo community and anybody else who is interested in the history of the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the Bowery,” she says.

(Photo: Michael Scheinost)