Marcello Malpighi
An Italian anatomist and microscopist who described the patterns on the tips of fingers as part of an overall study of human skin.   He is regarded by some to be the first histologist.  (Histology is the study of tissues.)  The lower epidermis "Malpighian layer" is named after him.  For almost 40 years he used the microscope to describe the major types of plant and animal structures and in doing so marked out for future generations of biologists major areas of research in embryology, human anatomy and pathology.
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Early Fingerprint Pioneers
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Dr. Nehemiah Grew (1641 - 1712)
Dr. Grew was a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the College of Physicians, he described the "innumerable little ridges" in Philosophical Transactions for 1684:

For if anyone will but take the pains, with an indifferent glass to survey the palm o f his hand, he may perceive ... innumerable little ridges, of equal bigness and distance, and everywhere running parallel one with another.  And especially, upon the hands and first joints of the fingers and thumb. They are very regularly disposed into spherical triangles and elliptics.

Dr. Grew published extremely accurate drawings of finger patterns and areas of palm.
Jan Purkinje (1787 - 1869)
A Czechoslovakian physiologist who, in 1823 discovered the following:

After innumerable observations, I have found nine important varieties of patterns of rugae and sulci, though the lines of demarcation between the types are often obscure:

1.  Transverse curve  2. Central longitudinal stria3. Oblique stripe
4.  Oblique loop5. Almond whorl 6.  Spiral whorl
7.  Ellipse 8. Circle            9.  Double whorl

Dr. Purkinje recognized the classification element of friction ridge formations but did not associate friction ridges to a means of personal identification.
William Herschel (1833 - 1918)
Working as the Assistant Joint Magistrate and Collector in colonial India, Herschel is credited with being the first European to recognize the value of fingerprints for identification purposes.  In 1859 he began collecting, as keepsakes, the fingerprints of his friends and relatives and took note of how each impression was unique to the individual and observed that the patterns did not change over time.

His fingerprinting ideas were not implemented until 1877 when he as finally able to implement their official use under his own authority.  From 1877 - 1878 "government  pensioners in his region signed for their monthly payments with fingerprints.  At the registry of deeds, land owners 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." (Copyright C 2001 Colin Beavan)

In response to Henry Faulds's fingerprint article in Nature October 28, 1880, he wrote "Skin Furrows of the Hand" that was published on November 25, 1880.  In it Herschel "wrote that he had used fingerprints officially as "sign-manuals," or signatures, sanctioning the idea's practicality."(Copyright C 2001 Colin Beavan)
Sir Francis Galton (1822 - 1911)
Sir Francis Galton was was considered to be one of the greatest scientist of the 19th century.  He studied Bertillon's method as well as fingerprinting and believed fingerprinting to be the superior method. He reviewed research material prepared by Henry Faulds and William Herschel.  Despite the fact that, "Herschel's letter [published in Nature] did not hold a candle to the rich and varied contents of Faulds's" (Copyright C 2001 Colin Beavan) Galton chose only to correspond with Herschel, being familiar with his family name and status.  In 1892 he published the book "Finger Prints" and, in doing so, significantly advanced the science of fingerprint identification
Sir Edward Henry (1850 - 1931)
As the Inspector General of Police for Bengal Province in India, he set out to solve the problem of fingerprint classification.  He read Galton's book "Fingerprints" in 1893.  He returned to England in 1894 and actually consulted with Galton.  Galton provided Henry with much information including research completed by Herschel and Faulds.  Henry went back to India and assigned two Bengali police officers to study the classification problem.  Henry's team in India was successful in setting up a classification system which was officially adopted by British India in 1897.


The British Association for the Advancement of Science heard of Henry's success in India.  Henry was invited to make a presentation in Dover.  Again, Henry returned to England and presented a paper entitled "Fingerprints and the Detection of Crime in India".  Henry gave much credit to Galton and for his work and assistance.  Before he left for a new assignment in South Africa, Henry gave evidence before the Belper Committee which was created to examine the implementation of fingerprints as the primary means of identification.  Shortly after,  Henry's book "The Classification and Uses of Finger Prints" was published.  In December 1900, the Belper Committee recommended that the finger prints of criminals be taken and classified by the Indian System.  In May 1901, Henry was called back to England and given the post of Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of Criminal Identification at New Scotland Yard.  In 1903, Henry became Commissioner of 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."  (Introduction to Basic Ridgeology, May 1999 by David Ashbaugh)

Dr. Henry Faulds (1843 - 1930)
Henry Faulds was a Scottish physician and medical missionary.  While working as a missionary in Japan in 1878, Faulds discovered fingerprints on ancient pottery and soon after began extensive research - including many experiments to reveal permanence and uniqueness of fingerprints.  Faulds is credited with being the first European to publish an article suggesting that fingerprints may assist crime investigations by the "scientific identification of criminals": 

"When bloody finger marks or impressions on clay, glass, etc. exist, they may lead to the scientific identification of criminals.  Already I have had experience in two such cases ... There can be no doubt as to the advance of having, besides their photographs, a nature-copy of the forever unchangeable finger furrows of important criminals."
(Nature, October 28 1880)

In 1886 he began trying to convince Scotland Yard to adopt 'fingerprint' identification.
More on Henry Faulds>>>
Alphonse Bertillon (1853 - 1913)
Alphonse Bertillon began working as an assistant clerk in the records office at the Prefecture of Police, Paris, France beginning in March 1879.  Only 5 months later,  Bertillon devised a very meticulous method of measuring body parts as a means of identifying criminals.  It was very easy at this time for criminals to give a false name to hide their criminal past.  In October 1879, Bertillon prepared a report on the system that would eventually bear his name - "Bertillonage".  It was initially rejected but approximately three years later the system of 'Anthropometry' was given a chance.  In 1883 Bertillon identified his first habitual criminal using his newly installed anthropometric system of measurements.
Marcello Malpighi
1628 - 1694
William Herschel
1833 - 1918
Dr. Henry Faulds
1843 - 1930
Sir Francis Galton
1822 - 1911
Sir Edward Henry
1850 - 1931
Alphonse Bertillon
1853 - 1913
Marcello Malpighi
1628 - 1694
Dr. Nehemiah Grew
1641 - 1712
J.C.Mayers
In 1788, J.C. Mayers wrote in his illustrated textbook Anatomical Copper-plates with Appropriate Explanations that "the arrangement of skin ridges is never duplicated in two persons".

Mayers was one of the first scientists to recognize that friction ridges are unique.
Juan Vucetich (1858 - 1925)
Juan Vucetich was employed by the LaPlata Office of Identification and Statistics. He had read an article from Revue Scientifique that reported on Galton's experiments with fingerprints and their potential use in identification.  He immediately started to collect impressions of all ten fingers to include with the anthropometric measurements he took from arrested men.  He also devised his own fingerprint classification method.  It wasn't until 1894, however, that his superiors were convinced that anthropometry measurements were not necessary in addition to full sets of fingerprint records. By this time he had refined his classification system and was able to categorize fingerprint cards into small groups that were easily searched.