• Since the beginnings of criminal investigation,police have sought an infallible means of humanidentification. The first systematic attempt atpersonal identification was devised andintroduced by a French police expert, AlphonseBertillon, in 1883. The Bertillon system relied ona detailed description (portrait parlé) of thesubject, combined with full-length and profilephotographs and a system of precise bodymeasurements known as anthropometry.
Alphonse Bertillon1853-1914 The use of anthropometry as a methodof identification rested on the premisethat the dimensions of the human bonesystem remained fixed from age 20 untildeath. Skeleton sizes were thought to beso extremely diverse that no twoindividuals could have exactly the samemeasurements.
• For two decades, this system was consideredthe most accurate method of identification,but in the early years of the 20th century,police began to appreciate and accept asystem of identification based on theclassification of finger ridge patterns known asfingerprints. Today, the fingerprint is the pillarof modern criminal investigation.
The Early Use of Fingerprinting• The Chinese used fingerprints to sign legaldocuments as far back as three thousand yearsago. Whether this practice was performed forceremonial custom or as a means of personalidentity remains a point of conjecture lost tohistory. In any case, the examples offingerprinting in ancient history are ambiguous,and the few that exist did not contribute to thedevelopment of fingerprinting techniques as weknow them today.
The Early Use of Fingerprinting• Sir William Hershel: Several years beforeBertillon began work on his system, WilliamHerschel, and English civil servant stationed inIndia, started requiring natives to sign contractswith the imprint of their right hand, which waspressed against a stamp pad for the purpose.The motives for Herschel’s requirement remainunclear; he may have envisioned fingerprintingas a means of personal identification or just asa form of the Hindu custom that a trace ofbodily contact was more binding than asignature on a contract. In any case, he did notpublish anything about his activities until after aScottish physician, Henry Fauld, working in ahospital in Japan, published his views on thepotential application of fingerprinting topersonal identification.
The Early Use of Fingerprinting• Henry Fauld: In 1880 Fauld suggestedthat skin ridge patterns could beimportant for the identification ofcriminals. He told about a thief wholeft his fingerprint on a whitewashedwall, and how in comparing these printswith those of a suspect, he found thatthey were quite different. A few dayslater, another suspect was found whosefingerprints compared with those onthe wall. When confronted with thisevidence, the individual confessed tothe crime.
• Fauld was convinced that fingerprintsfurnished infallible proof of identification. Heeven offered to set up at his own expense afingerprint bureau at Scotland Yard to test thepracticality of the method. But his offeredwas rejected in favor of the Bertillon System.This decision was reversed less than twodecades later.
Early Classification of Fingerprints• Extensive research intofingerprinting conducted bySir Francis Galton providedthe needed impetus thatmade police agencies awareof its potential application.In 1892, Galton published hisclassic textbook Finger Prints,the first book of its kind onthe subject. In his book,Galton discussed theanatomy of fingerprints andsuggested methods forrecording them.
Early Classification of Fingerprints• Galton also proposed assigningfingerprints to three patterntypes – loops, arches, and whorls.Most important, the bookdemonstrated that no two printsare identical and that anindividual’s prints remainunchanged from year to year. AtGalton’s insistence, the Britishgovernment adoptedfingerprinting as a supplement tothe Bertillon system.
Early Classification of Fingerprints• The next step in the developmentof fingerprint technology was thecreation of classifications systemscapable of filing thousands ofprints in a logical and searchablesequence. Dr. Juan Vucetich, apolice officer from Argentina whowas fascinated by Galton’s work,devised a workable concept in1891. His classification system hasbeen refined over the years and isstill widely used today in mostSpanish-speaking countries.
• In 1897, another classificationsystem was proposed by anEnglishman, Sir EdwardRichard Henry. Four yearslater, Henry’s system wasadopted by Scotland Yard.Today, most English-speakingcountries, including the UnitedStates, use some version ofHenry’s classification system tofile fingerprints.
• Early in the 20th century, Bertillon’s measurement systembegan to fall into disfavor. Its results were highlysusceptible to error, particularly when the measurementswere taken by people who were not thoroughly trained.The method was dealt its most severe and notable setbackin 1903 when a convict, Will West, arrived at FortLeavenworth prison. A routine check of the prison filesstartlingly revealed that a William West, already in theprison, could not be distinguished from the new prisonerby body measurements or even by photographs. In fact,the two men looked just like twins, and theirmeasurements were practically the same. Subsequently,fingerprints of the prisoners clearly distinguished them.
• In the United States, the first systematic andofficial use of fingerprints for personalidentification was adopted by the New YorkCity Civil Service Commission in 1901. Themethod was used for certifying all civil serviceapplications. Several American police officialsreceived instruction in fingerprintidentification at the 1904 World’s Fair in St.Louis, Missouri from representatives fromScotland Yard.