American traditional is one of the staples of modern tattooing. It's the basis of so many styles—from new school to neo traditional. And while many tattooers have contributed to making this style what it is today, it all goes back to the grandfather of traditional—Sailor Jerry.
Sailor Jerry was born Norman Collins in 1911. As a teenager, he left home and began traveling the country via hitchhiking and train hopping. It was there he learned how to tattoo using a hand poke method using just black ink and a single needle. In 1920, he made his way to Chicago and met Gib 'Tatts' Thomas, who taught him how to use a tattoo machine. At the age of 19, Jerry enlisted in the United States Navy and traveled throughout Southeast Asia. There, he learned about their art and imagery, which he brought into his tattooing. After WWII, Jerry settled in Honolulu and began building his tattoo legacy. Sailor Jerry began crafting tattoo flash and tattoos that depicted his experiences in the Navy, which appealed greatly to fellow soldiers. Many of these tattoos had nautical inspirations, such as clipper ships, sharks, mermaids and sailors.
Today, traditional continues to celebrate Jerry's legacy by inking nautical tattoos worldwide. In fact, many other styles have incorporated these images into tattoos as well. Take a peek at 50 of our favorite nautical tattoos from talented artists around the world in the gallery below and let us know if you have a nautical tattoo in the comments section on social media.