Perhaps one of the most influential people involved with the evolution of fingerprinting is Sir Edward Henry. Born on July 26, 1850, in London, Henry studied English, Latin, physics, and mathematics at St. Edmund's College and University College. In 1873 Henry qualified for the Indian Civil Service and was appointed to the presidency of Fort William in Bengal, India.
In October 1873 Henry was appointed assistant magistrate collector for the government of the Northwest Provinces. His duties were to preside over the court where tax claims and disputes were adjudicated. In 1891 Henry was appointed to the office of inspector general of the Bengal Police Department. It was during this time that Henry developed an interest in fingerprinting. Henry and Galton began exchanging letters and discussed the merits of fingerprinting. In 1892 the Bengal police force adopted Bertillon's anthropometric system to identify criminals, adding fingerprints to the cards. In 1893 Henry obtained a copy of Gal-ton's book, Finger Prints, and began composing a simple yet reliable way to classify fingerprints.
Henry's classification system was completed in February 1897. This system assigned numerical values to each digit, starting with the right thumb (designated 1) through to the left little finger (designated 10). This standard notation is printed on all fingerprint record cards in those countries that use Henry's system. The numbered digits are often considered in pairs, written in the form of a fraction, which is given an arbitrary numerical value.
In March 1897 a commission was set up by British authorities to examine Bertillon's anthropometric system and Henry's classification system. A unanimous verdict established Henry's system as the accepted method for identifying criminals. Six months later it was adopted throughout British India, and in 1900 England began using it. Henry published Classification and Use of Finger Prints in 1901, explaining his system and its superiority to anthropometry. That same year Henry was appointed assistant police commissioner of London.
During his appointment the first fingerprint bureau was established at Scotland Yard. He rose to the post of commissioner of Scotland Yard two years later and was knighted in 1906. Ironically, Henry was the victim of an attempted murder. In 1912 he was on the doorsteps to his Kensington house, and someone fired three shots at him. One bullet struck Henry, but he survived the attack. In August 1918 the Metropolitan and City of London Police Officers went on strike. The strike, which lasted more than 44 hours, prompted Henry to resign as commissioner. Henry died of a heart attack in 1931. He left behind him the establishment of the fingerprint classification system that is most used worldwide.
According to David Ashbaugh, an established expert in the field of dactylography and a member of the Royal Mounted Canadian Police, "The Henry Classification System started what is considered the modern era of finger print identification. The fact that the Henry System is the basis for most of the classification systems presently used today speaks for itself."
The history of the development of fingerprint technology is both interesting and varied. Inquiring minds and necessity combined to develop a new technology that addressed a need that is no less important in modern times. It is somewhat humbling to study the efforts of obviously very intelligent individuals who solved their problems unaided by computers or other modern technology. Equally humbling is the fact that those solutions are still applicable in this modern age.
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