Susan Page Davis here. A lot of my books involve fingerprinting, and I had the exciting opportunity to experience it myself a few days ago. Because it involved a travel permit, it was done through a branch of Homeland Security, and they have the latest technology. No ink, no paper cards to be filed. It’s all electronic nowadays. But how did the collection and comparison of fingerprints start?
Way back, earlier than 1000 B.C., fingerprints were used on clay tablets to seal business transactions in ancient Babylon.
The Chinese began using thumbprints on clay seals to “sign” documents in the third century B.C. During the T’ang Dynasty, 610 to 907 A.D., fingerprints were used on official documents.
In the 14th Century A.D., in Persia, many government documents had fingerprint impressions, and a government physician noted that no two fingerprints were exactly the same.
In 1686, an Italian professor of anatomy, Marcello Malpighi, used new technology—a microscope—to study fingerprints. He noted the common details of spirals, loops, and ridges.
In 1823, a Prussian professor of anatomy, Johannes Purkinje, described nine fingerprint patterns. Still no mention was made of using fingerprints as a method of identification.
In 1877, The American Journal of Microscopy and Popular Science reported that microscopist Thomas Taylor, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, proposed that finger and palm prints left on any object might be used to solve crimes.
Dr. Henry Faulds, a British surgeon supervising a hospital in Tokyo, published an article in a scientific journal in 1880. He discussed using printer’s ink as a method of collecting fingerprints for the purpose of personal identification. He developed a system of classifying them and sent his observations to Charles Darwin. Darwin, who was aging and ill, forwarded Dr. Faulds’s data to his cousin, Sir Francis Galton.
In 1882 fingerprints were first known to be used for identification in America by Gilbert Thompson. An employee of the U.S. Geological Survey in New Mexico, he used his own fingerprints on a document to guard against forgery.
|Sir Francis Galton
Darwin’s cousin, Galton, published the first book on fingerprints in 1892. He was a British anthropologist, and he discussed in his book the uniqueness of fingerprints and the individual details they contain.
The first known collection of criminals’ fingerprints began in 1891 in Argentina, initiated by Juan Vucetich, a police official. The first known case in which a fingerprint was used in the solution took place in 1892.
In 1896, the International Association of Chiefs of Police established the National Bureau of Criminal Identification. Its purpose was exchanging arrest information between agencies.
In 1901, back to India: Sir Edward Henry, an inspector general of police in Bengal, developed the first system of classifying fingerprints. It was adopted as the official system in England and eventually spread over the world. He was later the Home Office Secretary and published “The Classification and Use of Fingerprints.” The Fingerprint Branch of New Scotland Yard was established, using Henry’s system.
In 1902, a Paris murder case was solved when police took a fingerprint from the crime scene and matched it to one already on file, belonging to a criminal previously arrested. In America at this time, the systematic use of fingerprints was beginning. In 1905, the U.S. Army began taking members’ fingerprints, and the Navy and Marine Corps began doing so within three years.
In 1910, Frederick Brayley published the first American textbook on fingerprints, "Arrangement of Finger Prints, Identification, and Their Uses."Fingerprints were first accepted by United States courts as a reliable means of identification in 1911. Thomas Jennings was the first person to be convicted of murder in the U.S. based on fingerprint evidence.
Also in 1911, the first central storage place for fingerprints in North America was established in Ottawa, Canada, maintained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
In 1924, Congress established the Identification Division of the F.B.I. By 1946, the F.B.I.’s fingerprint repository had more than 100 million fingerprint cards.
|Fingerprint card of Rosa Parks. Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.
In 1996, fingerprinting of children became common in America as a guard against abduction. Parents were given the record card or a home fingerprint kit, maintaining their privacy unless the record was needed. More than 5 million Child ID Fingerprinting Kits had been distributed around the world by 2001.
In 1999, the F.B.I. phased out the use of cards and now uses the integrated AFIS system, based in Clarksburg, W.V., which contains computerized records for approximately 33 million criminals. Older paper cards are still maintained at another facility.
These are just a few of the significant events in the history of fingerprinting. The detectives in my Maine Justice series use fingerprints as one of many tools in solving their cases. If you would like to be entered in a drawing for your choice of books in this series, leave a comment below, including your contact information.
Susan Page Davis is the author of more than seventy novels and novellas in the mystery, romantic suspense, and historical romance genres. A Maine native, she now lives in western Kentucky. She is a winner of the Carol Award, Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award, Will Rogers Medallion, and more. Visit her website at www.susanpagedavis.com, where you can see all her books, sign up for her occasional newsletter, enter a month book drawing, and read a short story on her Romance page.