The use of fingerprinting as a means of identification was born out of the need of law enforcement officials to have permanent records that could determine if a convict had been previously arrested or imprisoned. Before the advent of fingerprinting, law enforcement used a number of different methods to try to accomplish this. Ancient civilizations would tattoo or physically maim prisoners. In more recent times, daguerreotyping (that is, photographing) was used, but proved to be less than reliable, because people had the ability to dramatically alter their appearance (Skopitz). As a result, this method too, became obsolete with the discovery of fingerprinting, an absolutely infallible method of identification.
Variations of fingerprinting have existed since the very beginning of civilization. Originally, it was used primarily as a type of signature. However, in the Fourteenth Century, it was discovered by a Persian official that no two people had identical fingerprints (The History of Fingerprints). Over the next 300 years or so, there was little development in fingerprinting, except for the work of two professors, Marcelo Malpighi and John Evangelist Purkinji. Each had works on types of fingerprint patterns published - Malpighi in 1686 and Purkinji in 1823 (The History of Fingerprints).
The middle to late Nineteenth Century was the time when interest in fingerprinting peaked and a number of important discoveries were made. This all started with the English Chief Magistrate in India, Sir William Herschel, who required natives to have their fingerprints impressed on all business contracts, a tradition which dated back thousands of years (The Hi...
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...y in recent years was the computerization of the process. Fingerprints are now stored and matched using computers. Fingerprinting is still used in criminal investigations, although DNA testing is becoming increasingly prevalent and will likely, in cases in which such evidence is available, eventually replace fingerprinting (Skopitz).
Brief Summary of Sources
http://onin.com/fp/fphistory.html - This site provides a list of people who made significant advancements in fingerprinting. The list is structured chronologically by the date on which the advancements were made.
http://kyky.essortment.com/fingerprinthist_rmmv.htm - This site provides a more detailed history of fingerprinting. It describes methods of identification used prior to the advent of fingerprinting, follows the development of fingerprinting, and speculates on the future of fingerprinting.
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