The History of Fingerprint Recognition

Fingerprint recognition has served as an identifiable form of personal identification for over a century. This science is preferred over other methods of establishing the identity of individuals for a number of different reasons.

Fingerprint recognition established professional forensic organisation, the International Association for Identification (IAI) in 1915. Fingerprint recognition established the first professional certification programme for forensic scientists, the IAI’s Certified Latent Print Examiner. The CLPE programme was founded in 1977. Those issued certification had to meet a stringent criteria.

Today, fingerprint recognition has evolved substantially, and is still the most commonly used forensic criteria used. In America alone, tens of thousands of people are added to fingerprint repositories each and every day.

Identification through fingerprints has been discovered as far back as 200BC. Chinese records from the Quin Dynasty 221-206BC have identified handprints as evidence during thievery investigations.

Moving forward more than a thousand years, a paper published by Dr. Nehemiah Grew was the first European to publish friction skin observations. In his 1684 paper to the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, he outlined important findings on friction ridge skin observations.

The 1800’s saw increased awareness and knowledge of fingerprinting. In 1858 Englishman, Sir William James Herschel, the Chief Magistrate of the Hooghly district in Junipoor, India on a whim impressed the hand of a local businessman, Rajadhar Konai.

It is thought that Sir William James Herschel did so to frighten him out of all thought of denying his signature. Sir William then made it a habit to record palm prints, and later finger prints. This is considered to be the first modern day use of fingerprinting, but as opposed to keeping the prints for scientific evidence, they were kept for superstitious reasons.

The twentieth century has saw fingerprint recognition become increasingly prevalent, especially in state services. In 1903 the New York State Prison system introduced the systematic use of fingerprints for US criminals. From 1905 to 1908 the US Army, US Navy and Marine Corps created a centralised reference collection of fingerprint cards as a means of identification. During the next twenty five years a number of law enforcement agencies across the US adopted fingerprint recognition as a means of identification.

In New Orleans, Louisiana on August 1st 1977 the 62nd Annual Conference of the International Association for Identification (IAI) was formally credited as the world’s first programme for fingerprint experts.

Since 1977 the IAI’s Latent Print Certification Board has proficiency tested thousands of applicants, and periodically tested all IAI Certified Latent Print Examiners (CLPE’s.)

Over the last three decades CLPE status has become a prerequisite for journeyman fingerprint expert positions in many US State and Federal governmental forensic laboratories. IAI CLPE status is considered by many identification professionals as a measurement of excellence.