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  • National Museum of the American Sailor

Marked by the Sea: Tattoos in the U.S. Navy

A new temporary exhibit at the National Museum of the American Sailor.

Early Navy Tattoo Design

Discover the history of tattoos with one-of-a-kind artifacts and artwork, and uncover the history behind how tattoos became a symbol of and for sailors. This new temporary exhibit explores how modern tattoos are rooted in the nautical world, beginning with British sailors in the early eighteenth century and spreading to sailors in the U.S. Navy. "Marked by the Sea" follows the history and culture of sailor tattoos through all American wars and conflicts, delves into the meaning behind common tattoos, and explores how sailor tattoo culture cultivated mainstream acceptance of this unique form of body art. 


Get more sailor tattoo history!

Learn more about sailor tattoo history and the making of this exhibit with the following resources.

Preble Hall Podcast - Staff from the museum sat down with our friends at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum to discuss the creation of this exhibit. Discover our favorite tattoo artifacts, what goes into the making of a museum exhibit, and how "Marked by the Sea" was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in this episode of Preble Hall. Click here to listen, or find Preble Hall on your favorite podcast streaming service. 

Speaker's Bureau Presentation - NMAS offers a free Speaker's Bureau for groups and civic organizations. We offer a variety of naval history presentations including one all about Navy tattoo history. All presentations are now available virtually, as well as in person. To reserve your Speaker's Bureau presentation, click here


Tattooed sailor aboard USS Missouri
Published: Thu Jan 19 13:15:40 EST 2023