+91 11 45152301
January 12, 2022 - BY Kratika Mishra

History of Fingerprint

In this article, we will be discussing the legendary timestamp of first-person/discovery/events in the history of fingerprint examination in form of short bullet points to comprehend the historical picture of fingerprints in forensic science.

  • From approximately 221 B.C. to 220 AD, the Chinese were the first culture to use friction ridge impressions for the purpose of Identification. The presence of friction ridge in the skin was described for the first time in detail by Dr. Nehemiah Grew in 1684.
  •  In 1687 an Italian scientist Marcello Malpighi, examined the function, form, and structure of friction ridge skin. Malpighi is recognized for becoming the first person to employ a newly developed microscope for medical research. Malpighi highlighted in his treatise that ridged skin improves the friction between an object and the skin's surface, enhancing traction for walking and grabbing. A layer of skin (stratum Malpighi) was named after Malpighi in honor of his contributions. 
  • In 1788, a German doctor and anatomist named J. C. A. Mayer published a book that included precise drawings of friction ridge skin patterns. "Although the arrangement of skin ridges is never reproduced in two people," Mayer noted, "some individuals' similarities are closer." Others show noticeable variances, yet despite their disparities in arrangement, they all have a certain similarity". So, friction ridge skin is unique, according to Mayer, who was the first to write about it.
  • Dr. Johannes E. Purkinje (1787–1869), professor at the University of Breslau in Germany, classified fingerprint patterns into nine categories and named each one in his 1823 thesis titled "Commentary on the Physiological Examination of the Organs of Vision and the Cutaneous System". Despite the fact that Dr. Purkinje only named the patterns, his contribution is noteworthy because his nine pattern types were the forerunners of the Henry classification system.
  • Hermann Welcker (1822–1898) of the University of Halle, a German anthropologist, pioneered the study of friction ridge skin persistence. Welcker is credited with being the first to study permanence of fingerprint in his research by printing his own right hand in 1856 and then again in 1897. Welcker, on the other hand, did not seek credit in his 1898 study, instead of appearing to lend support to previous assertions of permanence in relation to friction ridge skin. Sir William James Herschel is generally credited with being the first to explore the persistence of friction ridge skin.
  • In 1858, Sir William James Herschel tried out the notion of using a handprint as a signature by having a man named Rajyadhar Konai stamp on the back of a contract for road binding materials with his right hand. The contract was considered as valid after it was received. As a result of Konai's spontaneous printing, friction ridge skin was used for the first time by a European. Following the success of this experiment, Herschel embarked on a year-long investigation on friction ridge skin, collecting fingerprints from family, friends, colleagues, and even himself. Herschel wrote the "Hooghly Letter" to Bengal's Inspector of Jails and the Registrar General on August 15, 1877, detailing his ideas and recommending that the fingerprint system be spread to other geographical areas. The Hooghly Letter explained both the permanence and uniqueness of friction ridge skin while offering even more possibilities for this means of individualization.
  • After witnessing ridge detail on pottery found on a Japanese seashore, Henry Faulds became fascinated in friction ridge skin. As a medical missionary, Faulds established a hospital in Tsukiji, Japan, where he worked from 1873 to 1885. Faulds did a separate study at the time, gathering prints from both monkeys and people. In a letter to noted naturalist Charles Darwin dated February 16, 1880, Faulds wrote that friction ridges were distinct and classifiable, and hinted at their permanence. In October 1880, Faulds submitted an article to the magazine Nature in order to share his findings with other scholars. Faulds recommended employing friction ridge individualization at crime scenes in that article and provided two actual examples. A grease print on a drinking glass, and a set of sooty finger-marks on a white wall. Faulds was the first to publish in a peer-reviewed journal about the importance of friction ridge skin for individualization, particularly as evidence.
  • In 1883, Dr. Arthur Kollmann of Hamburg, from Germany, contributes to the research of friction ridge skin. The embryological development of friction ridge skin was examined by Kollmann, who proposed that ridges are generated by lateral pressure between nascent ridges and that ridges are apparent in the fourth month of fetal life and fully formed in the sixth. The presence and placement of the volar pads on the hands and feet were discovered by Kollman for the first time.
  • Sir Francis Galton, a distinguished scientist at the period, took up the scientific research of friction ridge skin. Galton's research was mostly focused on hereditary issues, which led him to anthropometry and, later, fingerprints. Galton was interested in learning more about the hereditary nature of the physical body and what, if anything, it may reveal about a person. Visitors to his anthropometric laboratory were measured in seventeen different ways of their own volition. These measurements were written down on a card, which was then copied and handed to visitors as a keepsake. He discovered that forearm length was related to height based on this data, and calculated the earliest example of what statisticians today term a correlation coefficient (a numerical value indicating the strength of a relationship). Galton continued to obtain anthropometric measures, this time including the printing of the thumbs and then all ten fingers. Galton developed friction ridge skin as unique and permanent as the author of the first book on fingerprints (Finger Prints, 1892). He also came to the conclusion that there was no link between friction ridge skin and the identity of the person who had it. Galton details were named after Galton, who was the first to classify and characterize certain fingerprint minutiae.
  • Juan Vucetich was another prominent fingerprint researcher at the time. Until his elevation to the chief of the bureau of Anthropometric Identification, Vucetich worked as a statistician for the Central Police Department in La Plata, Argentina. In 1891, Vucetich began experimenting with fingerprints after studying Galton's studies. He began collecting criminal fingerprints and developed his own classification method. The first practical applications of fingerprint science by law enforcement professionals were Vucetich's classification system and the individualization of inmates through the use of fingerprints.
  • A murder was solved in 1892 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, utilizing thumbprint evidence obtained at the crime scene. Francisca Rojas' two children were found killed. Rojas had a wound in her throat. She blamed the murder on a man named Velasquez, who she claimed was jealous because she refused to marry him because she was in love with another man. Velasquez was mercilessly beaten by local cops in the hopes of eliciting a confession. Inspector Eduardo Alvarez was sent in from La Plata to undertake a comprehensive inquiry after Velasquez refused to confess. Inspector Alvarez began his investigation by looking at the crime site, where he discovered a bloody handprint on the door. Alvarez removed the piece of the door with the print and compared the bloody thumbprint with Francisca Rojas' thumbprints, having been trained to compare fingerprints by Juan Vucetich. She confessed to the killings when challenged and demonstrated that her thumbprint matched the thumbprint on the door. The Rojas murder case is widely regarded as the first homicide solved completely using fingerprint evidence, and Argentina was the first country to use fingerprints exclusively as a technique of identification.
  • Friction ridges are thought to aid grabbing by raising the level of friction between the ridges and the clutched object, according to David Hepburn of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Hepburn's work on "The Papillary Ridges on the Hands and Feet of Monkeys and Men," published in 1895, discussed the formation of the volar pads and he named two of them as the hypothenar and thenar volar pads found in the palm.
  • Harris Hawthorne Wilder, Professor of Zoology at Smith College, was studying primates when he noticed that their volar friction ridges resembled those of humans. Wilder's first work, on the "Disposition of the Epidermic Folds Upon the Palms and Soles of Primates," was published in 1897. Wilder continued to study morphology, plantar and palmar dermatoglyphics, genetics, and racial differences for the following three decades. Wilder was the first to propose that the positions of the volar pads were reflected by the centers of disturbance of primate friction ridge development.
  • The Belper Committee, chaired by Lord Belper, recommended that all criminal identity recorded must be categorized using the fingerprint system in December 1900. The Henry Classification System and the use of fingerprints to identify criminals became common practice in England as a result of this recommendation and were later implemented in most English-speaking countries. 
  • Inspector Charles Stockley Collins of Scotland Yard was the first person to be tried in England using fingerprint evidence. Collins spoke about a burglary case in which he was singled out. The trial and subsequent conviction in 1902 marked the introduction of fingerprint evidence in English courts.
  • Alphonse Bertillon was summoned to assist in the investigation of Joseph Reibel's murder case in Paris, France, on October 17, 1902. Henri Leon Scheffer, the murderer, was captured by his bloody fingerprint found in the glass pane and this case was brought to justice.  Bertillon is credited with solving the first murder in Europe using just fingerprint evidence.
  • Dr. Henry P. de Forest of the New York Civil Service Commission used fingerprints for the first time in the United States in 1902. To prevent imposters from taking tests for otherwise unqualified persons, De Forest started the practice of fingerprinting civil service applicants. When applicants submitted their applications, when they handed in each exam, and when they officially reported to duty, they were fingerprinted.
  • Captain James H. Parke of New York state devised the American Classification System in 1903, after several months of fingerprinting convicts upon their release. The implementation of the American Classification System and subsequent fingerprinting of all criminals in New York was the country's first systematic use of fingerprinting for criminal record purposes.
  • Inspector Ferrier and Major M. W. McClaughry began fingerprinting all inmates at the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, on October 19, 1904. These fingerprint records marked the beginning of the United States government's fingerprint collection program.
  • Inspector Charles S. Collins of Scotland Yard testified in 1905 that a suspect's fingerprint on a cash box might be identified. A guy and his wife were murdered in this instance. The accused were two brothers, Alfred and Albert Stratton. Collins demonstrated to the jury how fingerprints are classified and how to make an individualization. Then he exhibited the traits that matched Alfred Stratton's right thumb on a chart. Collins remarked that in all of his years of collecting, he had never found two prints that shared more than three traits. There were 11 traits that were shared in this case. Individualization of Alfred Stratton's right thumb impression was the best piece of evidence in the case, supplementing eyewitness statements. Both brothers were found guilty and sentenced to death for the crimes. The case was known as the Deptford Murder Trial because of the crime scene's location, and it was the first murder trial in England to employ fingerprints as evidence.
  • Thomas Jennings, a murder suspect, was found guilty in 1910 after four experts used fingerprints from a porch railing at the crime scene to identify him. Michael P. Evans, head of the Chicago Police Department's Bureau of Identification; William M. Evans, previously of the Chicago Police Department's Bureau of Identification; Edward Foster, an inspector with the Dominion Police in Ottawa, Canada; and Mary Holland, a trainer of Navy* personnel and the first American female instructor of fingerprinting, were among the experts. Jennings left his fingerprints on the railing, according to all four witnesses. Jennings' proximity to the murder scene 13 minutes after the murder, while carrying a recently fired pistol holding cartridges comparable to those recovered at the murder scene, was also used to implicate the defendant. People v Jennings became a milestone legal case after it was upheld on appeal because it was the first American appellate decision to address the admissibility of fingerprint expert testimony.
  • Lieutenant Joseph Faurot, a fingerprint expert with the New York Police Department, testified in a burglary case in 1911. On a pane of glass recovered from a doorway at the crime scene entry point, he identified defendant Charles Crispi's fingerprint. Faurot departed the room after taking the inked prints of the 12 jurors and other court employees in a spectacular courtroom display. To imitate the conditions of the burglary, Faurot's assistant had a jury member to put a print on a pane of glass. Faurot returned to the courtroom, developed the print that had been left on the glass, and assigned the developed print to the appropriate juror. Then Faurot handed each juror a set of charts outlining the striking similarities between Crispi's known prints and the print left on the broken glass at the burglary site. After that, each juror was permitted to compare the prints with Faurot. The defendant changed his plea to guilty after seeing the demonstrations. People v Crispi (1911) is regarded as the first conviction in the United States based solely on fingerprint evidence.
  • In 1918, Harris Hawthorne Wilder and Bert Wentworth (Police Commissioner of Dover, NH) worked on Personal Identification: Methods for the Identification of Individuals, Living or Dead, demonstrating how science and law enforcement might work together through collaboration. "The patterns of the friction skin are individual, and taken collectively, impossible to recreate in another individual," Wilder and Wentworth write in their book. The individual ridges, too, reveal various characteristics that are so unique that even the most featureless segment of a small patch of friction skin cannot be replicated by any other piece" This was the first scientific study to support the permanence and uniqueness of third-level detail.
  • The Supreme Court of Washington State upheld the Superior Court of King County's decision on a persistent offender's conviction in April 1939. This was a significant step because the case decision (State v Johnson, 1938) made it possible to convict a habitual offender using certified copies of fingerprints as proof of identity rather than requiring officials from other locations to testify to prior convictions in order to establish the individual's status as a habitual offender.
  • The sinking of the USS Squalus on May 23, 1939, was the first major US tragedy in which fingerprint individualization played a significant role.
  • When a Pan Am Central Airliner crashed in Lovettsville, Virginia, in 1940, the FBI took part in disaster identification for the first time.