As is frequently the case in the history of scientific developments, there were several individuals working independently of one another who played somewhat equal roles as early proponents of fingerprint technology. These situations result in some degree of controversy as to who should receive the credit. The pioneering work of Henry Faulds and William Herschel in fingerprint technology serves as an example of the controversy that often arises as to "who was first."
Henry Faulds is another scientist who publicly declared his beliefs about the possibilities of using fingerprints. Faulds was born in Scotland on June 1, 1843, and grew up in a small town called Beith. Although he had humble beginnings, he would rise above them to be one of the first pioneers in fingerprinting.
Faulds studied mathematics and logic at Glasgow University. Four years later he decided to pursue medicine at Anderson College. Faulds was a doctor, and his passion was working as a medical missionary. He started missionary work in India but after a disagreement with the superintendent resigned one year later. In 1874 Faulds moved to Tokyo, Japan. He initially worked as a medical missionary but by 1875 was able to establish Tsukiji Hospital. While there Faulds introduced methods to combat typhoid and lectured on surgical complications. He became fluent in Japanese and taught at the local university. He was also responsible for founding the Tokyo Institute for the Blind that exists to this day. Faulds developed a system of raised script to allow blind people to read. This script was a forerunner of the modern-day Braille system.
While in Japan Faulds discovered fingerprints on ancient pottery. The fingerprints, left by their makers, fascinated him, and Faulds began extensive research. His research included many experiments to reveal the permanent uniqueness of fingerprints. In one experiment Faulds even attempted to remove his own fingerprints with emery paper and chemicals but discovered that they just grew back in the same pattern.
Faulds conducted a study on "skin furrows" and predicted its forensic application. He even forecast that fingerprints would one day be transmitted by phototelegraphy, which could be the precursor to the modern-day AFIS system. A related pair of incidents prompted Faulds to help develop fingerprint identification for criminals. A thief climbed a wall near his house and left sooty fingerprints on its whitewashed surface. When the police arrested a suspect, Faulds asked them if he could take fingerprints from their prisoner. He found that the fingerprints he took from the suspect did not match those on the wall and advised the police that they had detained the wrong man. Another suspect was taken into custody. This time the suspect's prints matched, and he confessed to the crime. This was the first recorded occasion when both innocence and guilt were proven by the use of fingerprints. This incident is what gave Faulds the confidence and perseverance to continue with his beliefs and studies.
In October 1880 Faulds became the first person to publicly suggest fingerprints as a method of identification when he published an article in Nature magazine. In that paper he made two important observations: "(1) When bloody finger-marks or impressions on clay, glass etc., exist, they may lead to the scientific identification of criminals, and (2) A common slate or smooth board of any kind, or a sheet of tin, spread over very thinly and evenly with printer's ink, is all that is required [to take fingerprints]." This was the first recorded suggestion that fingerprints could be used to locate criminals, and how it might be done.
Faulds not only recognized the importance of fingerprints as a means of identification, but he devised a method of classification as well. Additionally, through his experiments Faulds was the first to discover that fingerprints do not change throughout one's life. He forwarded an explanation of his classification system and a sample of the forms he had designed for recording inked impressions to Sir Charles Darwin. Darwin, in advanced age and ill health, informed Faulds that he could be of no assistance to him but promised to pass the materials on to his cousin, Francis Galton. In 1886 Faulds returned to England due to his wife's illness. While in England Faulds hoped to convince Scotland Yard that his system was superior to any previously used. Scotland Yard declined his offer but later regretted the decision. In fact, it was not until 1901 that the British began using fingerprints to identify potential criminals.
In the meantime the discovery of the use of fingerprints for criminal identifications was often credited to others, such as William Herschel, William Henry, and Galton. Faulds died in 1930, receiving no recognition for his contribution to the field of dactylography. In fact, it took well over 50 years for many to see that Faulds was an influential person in the field of dactylography.
Around the same time that Faulds was making his discoveries, William Herschel was also trying to break into the field of fingerprinting. Herschel was born in 1833 and began studying fingerprints in 1858. In the 1850s Herschel was the British chief administration officer in the Hooghly District in Bengal, India. Herschel is credited with being the first European to recognize the value of fingerprints for identification purposes. In July 1858 Herschel had a local businessman, Rajyadhar Konai, impress his handprint on the back of a contract. Herschel stated that he did this to "frighten him out of all thought of repudiating his signature." The businessman was impressed with Herschel's business skills, and Herschel was fond of his new discovery, so Herschel decided to require palm prints with all contracts. Herschel's use of fingerprints was not used to prove or disprove identity but rather to prevent locals from trying to break contracts. Herschel began collecting, as keepsakes, the fingerprints from these contracts and also of his friends and relatives. He took note of how each impression was unique to the individual and observed that the patterns did not change over time.
Herschel came to realize that fingerprints could be used to prove or disprove someone's identity. His fingerprinting ideas were not implemented until 1877-78, however, when he was finally able to administer their official use under his own authority. During that period Herschel had government pensioners in his region "sign" for their monthly payments with fingerprints. At the registry of deeds, landowners impressed fingerprints to authenticate their transactions. At the courthouse convicts were forced to fingerprint their jail warrants so hired substitutes could not take their place in prison.
In 1880, after Faulds published his paper in Nature, Herschel retorted with a claim that he had been using fingerprints as a means to identify criminals in jails since 1860. Herschel published his opinion in a November 1880 article titled "Skin Furrows of the Hand," which was also published in Nature magazine. Herschel, however, had been using fingerprints in bar code form and failed to mention the potential for scientific and forensic use. This battle of letters between Faulds and Herschel lasted until 1917, when Herschel finally conceded that Faulds had been the first person to suggest in public a forensic use of fingerprints. Herschel died in 1918, shortly after admitting that Faulds was indeed the first to discover fingerprints' potential use for identification. Although Herschel was not the first to mention publicly the usefulness of fingerprints, he was one of the first to recognize their value.
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