Tattooing Was Illegal in New York City Until 1997



In 1961, it officially became illegal to give someone a tattoo in New York City, but Thom deVita didn’t let the new restriction deter him from inking people. The day after it was put into law, the tattoo artist quietly opened the doors of his tattoo shop in Alphabet City, then one of the grittiest neighborhoods in the area. He limited himself to just five clients per day, working late at night when many other people were asleep. While these may seem like temporary measures for such a vibrant city that seldom sleeps, it wouldn’t be until 1997 — 36 years later — that it would finally lift the ban. So what exactly caused the city to crack down on tattoos in the first place? There are various reasons behind why the ban took place. The city claimed that there was an outbreak of hepatitis B, while others suspected it was because the city wanted to clean up before the 1964 World’s Fair. There’s also supposedly a love story involving a city official and one of the tattooer’s wives, and that kind of turned into a personal vendetta. Today, tattoos are no longer seen as the taboo that they once were, and have become firmly planted within American society. Everyone from teachers to lawyers to museum curators sport them. New York City is home to more than 270 tattoo studios today, and the historical society has even invited several tattoo artists to conduct live demos as part of its "Tattooed New York" show.