picture writing of a hand with ridge patterns was discovered in
Nova Scotia. In ancient Babylon, fingerprints were used on clay
tablets for business transactions. In ancient China, thumb prints
were found on clay seals.
14th century Persia, various official government papers had fingerprints
(impressions), and one government official, a doctor, observed
that no two fingerprints were exactly alike.
Malpighi - 1686
1686, Marcello Malpighi, a professor of anatomy at the University
of Bologna, noted in his treatise; ridges, spirals and loops in
fingerprints. He made no mention of their value as a tool for
individual identification. A layer of skin was named after him;
"Malpighi" layer, which is approximately 1.8mm thick.
Evangelist Purkinji - 1823
1823, John Evangelist Purkinji, a professor of anatomy at the
University of Breslau, published his thesis discussing 9 fingerprint
patterns, but he too made no mention of the value of fingerprints
for personal identification.
William Hershel - 1856
English first began using fingerprints in July of 1858, when Sir
William Herschel, Chief Magistrate of the Hooghly district in
Jungipoor, India, first used fingerprints on native contracts.
On a whim, and with no thought toward personal identification,
Herschel had Rajyadhar Konai, a local businessman, impress his
hand print on the back of a contract.
idea was merely ". . . to frighten [him] out of all thought
of repudiating his signature." The native was suitably impressed,
and Herschel made a habit of requiring palm prints--and later,
simply the prints of the right Index and Middle fingers--on every
contract made with the locals. Personal contact with the document,
they believed, made the contract more binding than if they simply
signed it. Thus, the first wide-scale, modern-day use of fingerprints
was predicated, not upon scientific evidence, but upon superstitious
his fingerprint collection grew, however, Herschel began to note
that the inked impressions could, indeed, prove or disprove identity.
While his experience with fingerprinting was admittedly limited,
Sir Herschel's private conviction that all fingerprints were unique
to the individual, as well as permanent throughout that individual's
life, inspired him to expand their use.
Henry Faulds - 1880
the 1870's, Dr. Henry Faulds, the British Surgeon-Superintendent
of Tsukiji Hospital in Tokyo, Japan, took up the study of "skin-furrows"
after noticing finger marks on specimens of "prehistoric"
pottery. A learned and industrious man, Dr. Faulds not only recognized
the importance of fingerprints as a means of identification, but
devised a method of classification as well.
1880, Faulds forwarded an explanation of his classification system
and a sample of the forms he had designed for recording inked
impressions, to Sir Charles Darwin. Darwin, in advanced age and
ill health, informed Dr. Faulds that he could be of no assistance
to him, but promised to pass the materials on to his cousin, Francis
in 1880, Dr. Faulds published an article in the Scientific Journal,
"Nautre" (nature). He discussed fingerprints as a means
of personal identification, and the use of printers ink as a method
for obtaining such fingerprints. He is also credited with the
first fingerprint identification of a greasy fingerprint left
on an alcohol bottle.
Thompson - 1882
1882, Gilbert Thompson of the U.S. Geological Survey in New Mexico,
used his own fingerprints on a document to prevent forgery. This
is the first known use of fingerprints in the United States.
Twain (Samuel L. Clemens) - 1883
Mark Twain's book, "Life on the Mississippi", a murderer
was identified by the use of fingerprint identification. In a
later book by Mark Twain, "Pudd'n Head Wilson", there
was a dramatic court trial on fingerprint identification. A more
recent movie was made from this book.
Francis Galton - 1888
Francis Galton, a British anthropologist and a cousin of Charles
Darwin, began his observations of fingerprints as a means of identification
in the 1880's. In 1892, he published his book, "Fingerprints",
establishing the individuality and permanence of fingerprints.
The book included the first classification system for fingerprints.
primary interest in fingerprints was as an aid in determining
heredity and racial background. While he soon discovered that
fingerprints offered no firm clues to an individual's intelligence
or genetic history, he was able to scientifically prove what Herschel
and Faulds already suspected: that fingerprints do not change
over the course of an individual's lifetime, and that no two fingerprints
are exactly the same. According to his calculations, the odds
of two individual fingerprints being the same were 1 in 64 billion.
identified the characteristics by which fingerprints can be identified.
These same characteristics (minutia) are basically still in use
today, and are often referred to as Galton's Details.
1891, Juan Vucetich, an Argentine Police Official, began the first
fingerprint files based on Galton pattern types. At first, Vucetich
included the Bertillon System with the files. (see Bertillon below)
1892, Juan Vucetich made the first criminal fingerprint identification.
He was able to identify a woman by the name of Rojas, who had
murdered her two sons, and cut her own throat in an attempt to
place blame on another.
bloody print was left on a door post, proving her identity as
of fingerprints for criminal identification in England and Wales,
using Galton's observations and revised by Sir Edward Richard
Henry. Thus began the Henry Classification System, used even today
in all English speaking countries.
systematic use of fingerprints in the U.S. by the New York Civil
Service Commission for testing. Dr. Henry P. DeForrest pioneers
New York State Prison system began the first systematic use of
fingerprints in U.S. for criminals.
use of fingerprints began in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary
in Kansas, and the St. Louis Police Department. They were assisted
by a Sergeant from Scotland Yard who had been on duty at the St.
Louis Exposition guarding the British Display.
saw the use of fingerprints for the U.S. Army. Two years later
the U.S. Navy started, and was joined the next year by the Marine
Corp. During the next 25 years more and more law enforcement agencies
join in the use of fingerprints as a means of personal identification.
Many of these agencies began sending copies of their fingerprint
cards to the National Bureau of Criminal Identification, which
was established by the International Association of Police Chiefs.
was in 1918 when Edmond Locard wrote that if 12 points (Galton's
Details) were the same between two fingerprints, it would suffice
as a positive identification. This is where the often quoted (12
points) originated. Be aware though, there is "NO" required
number of points necessary for an identification. Some countries
have set their own standards which do include a minimum number
of points, but not in the United States.
1924, an act of congress established the Identification Division
of the F.B.I.. The National Bureau and Leavenworth consolidated
to form the nucleus of the F.B.I. fingerprint files.
1946, the F.B.I. had processed 100 million fingerprint cards in
manually maintained files; and by 1971, 200 million cards.
the introduction of AFIS technology, the files were split into
computerized criminal files and manually maintained civil files.
Many of the manual files were duplicates though, the records actually
represented somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 to 30 million
criminals, and an unknown number of individuals in the civil files.
1999, the FBI had planned to stop using paper fingerprint cards
(at least for the newly arriving civil fingerprints) inside their
new Integrated AFIS (IAFIS) site at Clarksburg, WV. IAFIS will
initially have individual computerized fingerprint records for
approximately 33 million criminals. Old paper fingerprint cards
for the civil files are still manually maintained in a warehouse
facility (rented shopping center space) in Fairmont, WV. Since
the Gulf War, most military fingerprint enlistment cards received
have been filed only alphabetically by name. The FBI hopes to
someday classify and file these cards so they can be of value
for unknown casualty (or amnesiac) identification (when no passenger/victim
list from a flight, etc., is known).
now in 2002, paper fingerprint cards are still in use and being
processed for all identification purposes.
offer an infallible means of personal identification. That is
the essential explanation for their having supplanted other methods
of establishing the identities of criminals reluctant to admit
previous arrests. Other personal characteristics change - fingerprints
earlier civilizations, branding and even maiming were used to
mark the criminal for what he was. The thief was deprived of the
hand which committed the thievery. The Romans employed the tattoo
needle to identify and prevent desertion of mercenary soldiers.
recently, law enforcement officers with extraordinary visual memories,
so-called "camera eyes," identified old offenders by
sight. Photography lessened the burden on memory but was not the
answer to the criminal identification problem. Personal appearances
1870 a French anthropologist devised a system to measure and record
the dimensions of certain bony parts of the body. These measurements
were reduced to a formula which, theoretically, would apply only
to one person and would not change during his/her adult life.
Bertillon System, named after its inventor, Alphonse Bertillon,
was generally accepted for thirty years. But it never recovered
from the events of 1903, when a man named Will West was sentenced
to the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas. You see, there
was already a prisoner at the penitentiary at the time, whose
Bertillon measurements were nearly exact, and his name was William
an investigation, there were indeed two men. They looked exactly
alike, but were allegedly not related. Their names were Will and
William West respectively. Their Bertillon measurements were close
enough to identify them as the same person. However, a fingerprint
comparison quickly and correctly identified them as two different
people. The West men were apparently identical twin brothers per
indications in later discovered prison records citing correspondence
from the same immediate family relatives.