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Fingerprints have been used as a means of positively identifying people for many years.

Here is a brief history of the science of fingerprints:

1880 - Dr. Henry Faulds, a Scottish doctor in Tokyo, Japan published an article in the  

scientific journal: “Nature”; in which he discussed fingerprints as a means of personal

identification, and the use of printers ink as a method for obtaining such fingerprints.

1882 - Alphonse Bertillion, French anthropologist, devised method of  

body measurements to produce a formula used to classify individuals.

Bertillion's formula involved taking the measurements of a persons  

body parts, and recording these measurements on a card. This

method of  classifying and identifying people became known as the

Bertillion System.

1892 - Sir Francis Galton, a British Anthropologist and cousin to Charles Darwin, publishes the

first book on fingerprints. In his book, Galton identifies the individuality and uniqueness

of fingerprints. The unique characteristics of fingerprints, as identified by Galton, will

officially become known as minutiae, however they are sometimes still referred to as

"Galton’s Details".

1891 - Juan Vucetich, Argentine Police Official, Initiated the fingerprinting of criminals,

(First case used was the Rojas Homicide in 1892, in which the print of a woman who murdered her two sons and cut her own throat in  an attempt to place the blame on another person was found on a door post)

1896 - International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), Establish National Bureau of

Criminal Identification, for the exchange of arrest information.

1901 - Sir Edward Henry, an Inspector General of Police in Bengal, India, develops the first

system of classifying fingerprints. This system of classifying fingerprints was first adopted

as the official system in England, and eventually spread throughout the world.

1903 – The William West – Will West Case at a Federal Prison in Leavenworth, Kansas,

changed the way that people were classified and identified.

When a man named Will West entered the Leavenworth Prison System, in 1903, he was

“booked” into the prison, as all other inmates. His face was photographed, and his Bertillion

measurements were taken. Upon completion of this process, it was noted that another

inmate, known as William West, who was already incarcerated at Leavenworth, had the

same name, Bertillion measurements, and bore a striking resemblance to Will West.

The incident called the reliability of Bertillion measurements into question
, and it was decided

that a more positive means of identification was necessary. As the Bertillion System began to

decline, the use of fingerprints in identifying and classifying individuals began to rise. After 1903,

many prison systems began to use fingerprints as the primary means of identification.

1905 – U.S. Military adopts the use of fingerprints – soon thereafter, police agencies began to

adopt the use of fingerprints

1908 – The first official fingerprint card was developed  

1911 - Fingerprints are first accepted by U.S. courts as a reliable means of Identification.

         - Dec. 21, 1911, The Illinois State Supreme Court upheld the admissibility of fingerprint  

           evidence concluding that fingerprints are a reliable form of identification.

        Thomas Jennings was the first person to be convicted of murder in the United States

based on fingerprint evidence. Jennings appealed his conviction to the Illinois Supreme Court on the basis of a questionable new scientific technique. The Illinois Supreme Court cited the historical research and use of fingerprints as a means of reliable identification in upholding the conviction, and thus establishing the use of fingerprints as a reliable means of identification.

Jennings was executed in 1912. 


1917 - First Palm print identification is made in Nevada. The bloody palm print, found on a

letter left at the scene of a stage coach robbery and murder of its driver, was identified

to Ben Kuhl. (State v. Kuhl 42 Nev. 195 175 PAC 190 (1918)

1924 – Formation of ID Division of FBI

1980 – 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 are nearly

70 million cards, or nearly 700 million individual fingerprints entered in AFIS.