Believe it or not, tattooing in Indiana has only been legal for 20 years

Donny Manco, owner of New Republic Tattoo, gives a client his first tattoo on the 20th anniversary of tattooing becoming legal in Indiana. (July 1, 2017)

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Odds are you know at least one person with a tattoo. In Allen County alone there are 29 tattoo shops. Up until 20 years ago on July 1 the only legal place to get a tattoo in Indiana was a physicians office.

Since it became legal, the tattooing world has come up from the underground. In Fort Wayne, tattooing has quickly been adopted.

“We became the 47th state, not the last state, to legalize tattooing,” Fort Wayne tattoo artist Donny Manco said.

When you drive down the street you see tattoo shops. When you turn on the TV you see tattoo shows. When you pass by people a lot of times you see tattoos. It’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t see them, but Manco remembers.

“When I first started tattooing there were like knocks you had to do on doors,” Manco said. “It was very speak easy.”

In the mid 1990s the Fort Wayne native and now owner of New Republic Tattoo knew he wanted to start tattooing. Since it was illegal his apprenticeship started in an artist’s basement.

Soon after state health officials got on board, and the 1997 General Assembly passed legislation to legalize tattooing. A lot of it was spearheaded State Senator Richard Worman of Leo. Like laws still today, that law went into effect on July 1, 1997.

“It was more about how do we make them safe, how do we look at them from a safety aspect to say things may need to be cleaned in a certain way,” Allen County Health Department Administrator Mindy Waldron said. “How do we prevent the spread of disease?”

Since, Fort Wayne hasn’t looked back. Manco called the city a hub of talent. Hunter Strong traveled from out of state to get his first tattoo done by Manco.

“I’m getting an American flag with an eagle in the middle of it,” Strong said. “Fourth of July weekend is the best time to ever get it.”

Twenty years, 29 shops and even a yearly convention later Fort Wayne has adopted tattooing as part of the culture.

“Fort Wayne we are a hub of talent,” Manco said. “I’m proud of that. I think that Fort Wayne adopted tattooing early. Which is a credit to Fort Wayne.”