The Evolution of an Industry & its Ethics (Part 2)

The Impact of
WWII on the
Tattoo Industry


Although tattooing had gained some popular notoriety during the beginning part of the 20th Century it was still primarily considered something only for sailors and sideshow attractions, but by the 1940’s that was all about to change.  As America entered World War II in December of 1941 and thousands of young men immediately enlisted into military service, the idea of getting some type of permanent marking to signify what they were fighting for became widely accepted.  Whether it was identifying what branch of the military they were a part of or a portrait or name of a loved one left at home, young GI’s were lining up as fast for their ink as they were for the chow line! 

With such a rapid and intense demand for tattoos literally raising up overnight, for the first time in history, the relatively small supply of tattooists that practiced the ancient art form were presented with somewhat of an ethical quandary.  As there were not enough hours in the day for them to tattoo all of the servicemen continuously in line waiting for their fresh ink and the thought of “sharing” their territory with a competitor was an absurd notion. 

*You see back then, tattoo artist’s and their parlors were mostly “one man shows” that would occasionally have an apprentice working their as well, but more importantly, whether it was due to outright respect or “intense negotiations” there was typically only one tattoo shop in a given area, many times even in a given city.  And as far as apprentices went, well think one of two things, either a lifetime of basically indentured servitude until your teacher passed away and you inherited the business or moving/finding a far away land after “graduation” that no one else had set up shop in yet, so again, what to do?


Luckily, it was during this period that what would now be looked at as the forefathers of the modern tattooing movement, artist’s such as Paul Rodgers, Bert Grimm, Sailor Jerry Collins, Milton Zeis, and Lyle Tuttle were there to offer direction and guidance, but that is for another article.  Tune in next week to see what the Grandfathers of Tattooing had to say…

Part 3 – Impact of World War II on Tattoo Industry cont.