The History of Fingerprints

What are Fingerprints?

Dictionary. com defines "fingerprints" as: "an impression or mark made on a surface by a person's fingertip, especially as used for identifying individuals from the unique pattern of whorls and lines."


In 1686, An anatomy professor named Marcello Malpighi, noted that there are ridges, spirals and loops in fingerprints. A layer of skin was named after him; "Malpighi" layer, which is approximately 1.8mm thick.


Sir William Herschel and the English began using fingerprints in 1858, when he first used fingerprints on native contracts. On a whim, and with no thought toward personal identification, Herschel had a local businessman, impress his hand print on the back of a contract. Sir Herschel's believed that all fingerprints were unique to the individual, as well as permanent throughout that individual's life.


During the 1870's-1880's, Dr. Henry Faulds not only recognized the importance of fingerprints as a means of identification, but also devised a method of classification as well. He forwarded an explanation of his classification system and a sample of the forms he had designed for recording inked impressions, to Sir Charles Darwin. He discussed fingerprints as a means of personal identification, and the use of printers ink as a method for obtaining such fingerprints.


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.


Fun fact, In Mark Twain's book, "Life on the Mississippi", a murderer was identified by the use of fingerprint identification.


Sir Francis Galton, 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. Galton 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.


In 1891, Juan Vucetich began the first fingerprint files based on Galton pattern types. At first, Vucetich included the Bertillon System with the files. In 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. Her bloody print was left on a door post, proving her identity as the murderer.


The introduction of fingerprints for criminal identification in England and Wales, using Galton's observations. Thus began the Henry Classification System, used even today in all English speaking countries.


The New York State Prison system began the first systematic use of fingerprints in U.S. for criminals.


The 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.


It was in 1918 when Edmond Locard wrote that if 12 points were the same between two fingerprints, it would suffice as a positive identification. This is where the often quoted 12 points originated. Some countries have set their own standards which do include a minimum number of points, but not in the United States.


In 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.


By 1946, the F.B.I. had processed 100 million fingerprint cards in manually maintained files; and by 1971, 200 million cards. With 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.


First computer data base of fingerprints was developed, which came to be known as the Automated Fingerprint Identification System, (AFIS). In the present day, there nearly 70 million cards, or nearly 700 million individual fingerprints entered in AFIS


paper fingerprint cards are still in use and being processed for all identification purposes.


"Free Image on Pixabay - Sherlock Holmes, Detective." Free Illustration: Sherlock Holmes, Detective. Web. 23 Oct. 2015.

"History of Fingerprints." History of Fingerprints. Web. 23 Oct. 2015.