|Crime Scene Forensics, LLC
||History of Fingerprints
1858 - Sir William Herschel, British Administrator in District in India, requires fingerprint and signatures on civil contracts
Fingerprints have been used as a means of positively identifying people for many years. Here is a brief history of the
science of fingerprints:
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
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. This system of classifying fingerprints was first adopted as the official
system in England, and eventually spread throughout
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
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
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
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
- 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 nearly 70 million cards, or nearly 700 million individual
fingerprints entered in AFIS
1882 - Alphonse Bertillion, a French anthropologist, devised method of body measurements to produce
a formula used to classify individuals. This formula involves 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.
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1880 - Dr. Henry Faulds, a Scottish doctor in Tokyo, Japan publishes article in “Nature”
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)