Little Bits of History

Dusting for Prints

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 28, 2010

A fingerprint

July 28, 1858: Sir William Herschel, Chief Magistrate of the Hooghly district in Jungipoor, India has Rajyadhar Konai leave an imprint of his palm on a contract to frighten him should he have any thought of repudiating the document. Sir William used the whole hand for a time and then switched to the right index and middle fingers alone as a signature.

In 1880, Dr. Henry Faulds was working in Tokyo and began the study of the finger ridges and looked at the possibility of using fingerprints left at the scene of a crime as a method of identifying the criminal. By 1892, Juan Vucetich, a police officer in Argentina, actually used this method of identifying a criminal and opened the first fingerprint bureau in the world.

In 1897, Sir Edward Henry identified a simplified fingerprint classification system that is still used in most English-speaking areas of the world. During the next century, more and more countries developed methods of storing and utilizing these fingerprints in order to capture criminals. Today, Interpol with over 180 member countries, shares fingerprint and other biometric data collected across the globe.

Even now, fingerprints must be looked at and found to be a match by two qualified experts. There are 35-50 minutiae, identification points, per fingerprint but when matching prints only 8-12 are used. Prints left behind in normal living are called “latent” prints as distinguished from comparison prints taken deliberately with inked fingers placed on fingerprinting cards.

“The DNA is the fingerprint of the 21st Century, but DNA tests are only part of the solution. They are a window into the larger problems in the system, like inadequate counsel.” – Patrick Leahy

“In future, the recording of biometrics, such as fingerprints, iris patterns or facial image means that we will have a much stronger way of linking identity to the person. A national ID card will be a robust, secure way to establish that identities are real, not fabricated.” – Charles Clarke

“The Ripper case is not one to be conclusively solved by DNA or fingerprints, … and in a way, this is good. Society has come to expect the wizardry of forensic science to solve all crimes, but without the human element of deductive skills, teamwork, very hard investigation, and smart prosecution, evidence means nothing.” – Patricia Cornwell

“We’re moving to an area where international travelers’ fingerprints are going to be part of their identifier.” – Stewart Baker

Also on this day, in 1958 Lord Jellicoe first spoke to the House of Lords after being a member for 19 years.

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