For the Record: History of Tattooing in Chicago
Courtesy of Tattoo Archive: Today, we can say that Chicago is one of the great cities of the world, but Chicago was a late bloomer. It was still a wilderness roamed by Indians at a time when many other large cities were great centers of trade and industry. Less than one hundred years after it was founded Chicago joined these cities as one of the largest in the world. Chicago gets its name from the Miami-Illinois Indian word shikaakwa, which means “stinky onion.” This meaning came about because of the onions that grew along its river. The 1990 World Almanac lists Chicago as the third largest city in the United States, after New York City and Los Angeles, and the twenty-second largest in the world — all of this for a city that was not incorporated until 1832! In 1840 the population was 4,417, and by 1850 it had grown to 29,936! From there the city never looked back…
Professional tattooing first came to the United States by way of New York City in the mid 1800s, and probably not very many years later to Chicago. European immigrants brought their tattooing skills to the new world and set-up shop. The Archive has no record of who claims the honor of being Chicago’s first professional tattooist, but through the years many ar tists have called Chicago their home.
Looking over the list you can see that State Street was far and away the most popular location for tattoo shops. As the words of the song goes, “On State Street, that great street, I just wanna say, they do things they don’t do on Broadway.” This sound like a bit of a slam on New York City. The street that is now known as State runs north and south. It originally was an Indian trail and with some state funded improvements in the 1800s, it took on the name State Road. It was unpaved and was known to have mud so deep it could allegedly suck down a horse and buggy. This changed greatly in the late 1800s when businessmen like Potter Palmer invested millions in department stores and hotels on State Street.
Below is a partial list of artists and locations of shops in the Windy City:
Bielman, Joe – 752 North Dearborn St.
Chorley, Chuck – 500 South State St.
Collins, Jerry – 434 South State St. (This was Jerry’s shop just before his move to Hawaii.)
Deal, Square – 626 South State St. at Joe’s Barber Shop.
Farrell, Red – 442 South State St.
Hansen, Paul – 620 and 669 South State St.
Hicks, Prof. – 288 South State St. (Hicks was also in the supply business.)
Jacobs, Kenneth – Location is unknown. (Jacobs later moved to the West Coast and became known as “Oakland Jake.”)
Johnstone, Ralph – 430 South State St. in the Hollywood Arcade, 414 and 600 South State St. and 13 West Harrison St.
(Johnstone worked with Tatts Thomas at all of these shops.)
Kasper, Jake – 462 South State St.
Kellet, Mickey – 434 and 638 South State St.
Killingsworth, Bill – 500 South State St.
Loulet, Michael – 500 South State St.
McFall, Buddy – 900 West Belmont
Moore, Bill – 430-436-653 and 651 South State St. (The Chicago Tattoo Supply House was at these locations.)
O’Conner, Mike – 430 South State St.
Pope, Jerry – 500 South State St.
Raven, Cliff – 900 West Belmont, later located in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Twenty-nine Palms, California.
Resinol, Ned – 414 South State St.
Schultz, Shorty – 434 South State St.
Smith, Mose – 534 South State St.
Soville, Earl – 508 South State St.
Sparrow, Phil – 655 South State St. and 1953 North Larrabee, later located in Oakland CA. (Sparrow’s book, Bad Boys and Tough
Tattoos is a remarkable account of the Chicago tattoo scene in the 1950s.)
Sutton, Ernie – 426 and 404 South State St.
Thomas, Tatts – 414-340-430-600-South State St. and 13 West Harrison St.
Webb, Randy – Sportland Arcade, South State St.
1-Discount card from Johnstone and Thomas’ State Street shop, c.1940s
2-Business card from Sailor Ned Resinol showing his move from Detroit to State Street, c.1950s
3-Bill Moore’s Chicago Tattoo Supply House logo, 1931, Rich Thomas Collection
4- Big Letter postcard from Chicago, c 1980s
5- Business card from Prof, Hicks, 288 State Street shop, 1900s, Gus Wagner Collection
6-Flash by Ralph Johnstone, 1950s, Bill Claydon Collection
7- Business card from Phil Sparrow’s, 655 State Street shop, 1960s
Tattoo Archive © 2011