Fingerprint Classification

The fingerprinting movement was launched in earnest in the latter part of the second half of the 19th Century. There is evidence of hand printing and fingerprinting dating all the way back to the building of the pyramids, and there is reason to believe that the Chinese culture used fingerprints as signatures on official documents back in 3 B.C. However, it was not until 1858 when Sir William J. Hershel, an English administrator in a province just outside of Calcutta, India, in an attempt to halt the rampant forgery in governmental dealings, obtained a print on Mr. Rajyadhar Konai, a local contractor. The fingerprinting worked out so well that Hershel continued the practice and, after a decade, had accumulated a file of fingerprints.

Soon thereafter, simultaneous studies on fingerprinting were conducted. As the practice of fingerprinting acquired more credence, the files of fingerprints collected by Hershel, Dr. Henry Faulds (who took fingerprints of Japanese hospital patients), and others proved too unwieldy. Sir Francis Galton, an English anthropologist, established the first classification of fingerprints in 1888, so that retrieval could be possible in a reasonable period of time. He established the classification of fingerprints on the patterns of the fingerprints independent of an individual's personal information. The grouping of patterns into arches, loops and whorls was revolutionary and was the basis of the work furthered revised by Sir Edward Richard Henry.

In 1896, Henry, the Inspector-General of Police, Lower Province for the Government of India, under English domain, revised Galton's methodology of classification of fingerprints and their retrieval, and presented his system to the Government of India for use in the criminal system in order to keep track of offenders. At that time, a type of personal identification was utilized by Alphonse Bertillon, a police clerk in France, who devised a method based on body measurements specific to each individual. Henry concluded that this methodology, the anthropometrical method, was successful in determining personal identification only 40% of the time. By taking the classification patterns of Galton and adding a fourth one, composites, the fingerprints could be filed in bins according to groupings for easy retrieval, thus eliminating the necessity of matching the fingerprints against those in the entire database. The Henry System of Fingerprint Classification was put into use by the Government of India, and it proved so successful as a means of establishing criminal identification records that Scotland Yard adopted the methodology in 1901. Henry was appointed Chief Commissioner of the London Police Department, and the Henry Classification of Fingerprinting was accepted as common practice throughout England and its territorial holdings and in the United States.

Within the same decade as Sir Henry's advances in the use of fingerprinting in the tracking and identification of criminals, similar programs were launched in South America by Juan Vucetich, an Argentine Police Official, and Henry Roscher, a disciple of Dr. Henry Faulds, in Germany. Vucetich is credited with the first positive criminal identification as, in 1892, he was able to extract a set of prints off a door and thus identify a woman as the culprit in a double homicide. Vucetich, Roscher, and Henry all developed systems of fingerprint classification based on the different shapes and patterns in the ridges of fingers, as well as on the finger positions of these pattern types and by the number of ridges in each finger configuration.

Henry's Classification of Fingerprinting system was adopted by the English speaking countries, while Vucetich's system was utilized in the Spanish speaking countries. Roscher's system was used in his homeland of Germany, and also in Japan. These manual filing systems paved the way for the computerized classification systems that exist today, and these three gentlemen were the chief fingerprint frontiersmen who explored the heretofore virgin territory of fingerprint classification, and then refined it into the classifications that are basically still in use today.