A Short History of Fingerprinting Essay

843 Words 4 Pages
A Short History of Fingerprinting


The use of fingerprinting as a means of identification was born out of the need of law enforcement officials to have permanent records that could determine if a convict had been previously arrested or imprisoned. Before the advent of fingerprinting, law enforcement used a number of different methods to try to accomplish this. Ancient civilizations would tattoo or physically maim prisoners. In more recent times, daguerreotyping (that is, photographing) was used, but proved to be less than reliable, because people had the ability to dramatically alter their appearance (Skopitz). As a result, this method too, became obsolete with the discovery of fingerprinting, an absolutely infallible
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The next significant advancement in fingerprinting was achieved by an Englishman, Dr. Henry Faulds, who created a fingerprint classification method and suggested using printers’ ink to obtain quality fingerprints (The History of Fingerprints). Perhaps the most important advancement in fingerprinting came in 1892, when a British Anthropologist, Sir Francis Galton, published the book Fingerprints. For a while it had been thought that no two fingerprints were identical. However, Galton became the first to scientifically prove this, as well as the fact that fingerprints remain unchanged throughout a person’s life (The History of Fingerprints). It was these two facts that made fingerprinting the preferred method of identification.

After Galton’s discovery, the use of fingerprinting by law enforcement was inevitable. In 1892, an Argentine police official, Juan Vucetich, became the first person to identify a criminal through fingerprints (The History of Fingerprints). The last major step necessary for the widespread use of fingerprint identification was to create a classification system that simplified the process of matching fingerprints. That came in 1901, when Edward Henry devised a system that separated fingerprints into four different categories - loops, whorls, arches, and composites (Skopitz). Shortly after its development, most European nations implemented this system of…