The popularity of tattoos did not just come from sailors and island tribes. In the 19th and early 20th centuries the circus gave a big boost to the popularity of tattoos.
It all started in the early nineteen hundreds when a tattooed man, which was very rare for the times, went to work for a circus. Circuses soon started to compete with each other over whose tattooed performers had the best ink. The major circuses would all have about three tattooed performers at all times. There would be tattoos in the freak shows and regular circus acts.
Tattoo artists would even travel with the circus over the summer. The circus was great publicity for them and a free showcase for their work. They where also usually paid by the circus.
The debut of the cross country railroad around 1869 brought circuses to even more people than before and even more people to be mesmerized by the tattooed performers.
In the 1890s, the new electric tattoo machines made getting tattoos much easier and more tattooed people showed up to work at the circus. By 1920, it is said that there where 300 circus performers who had full body tattoos and many where making as much as $200 a week, a lot of money for back then of course.