The History of Fingerprinting

            As I dug into the history of fingerprinting, I was amazed at how old the art was. Now as writers we are generally more interested in how fingerprinting is used in crime situations, but how it all came about should give you an appreciation of it.
            It surprised me to learn that the art of fingerprinting came into being back in 1000-2000 B.C. and was used an clay tablets for business transactions. My guess is this was their form of a signature. It was in 14th Century A.D. that a physician notices that no two fingerprints were alike.
            In the 1600’s the microscope was invented, and in 1686 at the University of Bologna in Italy a professor takes note of the spirals, loops, and ridges in fingerprints. It was not until 1823 that Johannes Evengelista Purkinje, a professor of anatomy with the University of Breslau in Prussia, wrote a thesis detailing a full nine different fingerprint patterns. Fingerprinting was a standard use for identification, especially on documents and contracts. In 1882 Gilbert Thompson, employed by the U.S. Geological Survey in New Mexico, uses his fingerprints on a document to guard against forgery. In the 1800’s Sir Francis Galton started studying fingerprints and in 1892 published a book, Fingerprints. It was the first of this type book which detailed the first classification system called Galton’s Details for fingerprints. This system is still to an extent used today. This same year Juan Vucetich, an Argentine police official, started the first fingerprint files based on Galton’s Details. He made history that year by making the first criminal fingerprint identification.
            In 1896 Sir Edward Richard Henry, a British official instituted a fingerprinting program for all prisoners. In 1902 the Director of the Bureau of Identification of the Paris Police made use of the first criminal identification of a fingerprint without a known suspect. In the meantime the testing of the first systematic use of fingerprints in the U.S. is performed by Dr. Henry P. DeForrest. After that the use of fingerprinting spreads, and by 1911 the first central storage location for North America was established in Ottawa by Edward Foster of the Dominion Police Force. Today it is maintained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. By 1924 the Identification Division of the F.B.I. was created.
            The 1990’s he Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems had widespread use around the country. Fingerprinting of children became the vogue by 1996 for investigative purposes.
            I was totally amazed that the history of fingerprinting went back as far as Babylon. Once it was discovered that no two people have the same fingerprints, the significance quickly accelerated over the years until law enforcement had one of the most important investigative tools known to man.
            There is one thing I would like to mention. As fingerprinting advanced to greater technology, criminals also became innovative in erasing their fingerprints from their fingertips with acid. Painful but effective.

Faye M. Tollison
Author of: To Tell the Truth
Upcoming books: The Bible Murders
                              Sarah’s Secret
Member of: Sisters In Crime
                    Writers on the Move


Anne Duguid Knol said...

So interesting. I love knowing all these things, Faye. I've just been reading the Barbara Cleverly series with detective Joe Sandilands, set around WW1 which also makes great use of historical background in detective work.
is this for a new book? Please let me know--sounds like my sort of novel.

Heidiwriter said...

This is fascinating. I had no idea! Thanks for sharing this with us.

Romance Book Haven said...

In India where I live, I once worked with a woman who signed for her salary with her thumbprint as she was illiterate.


Karen Cioffi said...

Faye, what great information. I love history and learning how things came about. This would be something that could be used in a mystery or suspense novel.

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