Although there may be some debate among historians and researchers, as there are many perspectives to explore. Here are some generally accepted firsts, when it comes to fingerprint evidence. Now, obviously I was not around when these happened, although after a few forensic shifts, I may have looked old enough to be. As such, I have worked to ensure the documents which support this information are provided for your ability to critically review.
1. When was the uniqueness of fingerprints first discovered?
- Although there is clear indication that people around the world knew of fingerprints, and were using them in ways which inferred the had knowledge, to some extent, of how unique they were. The first person who is credited with documenting this is J.C.A. Mayer in 1788.
This can be referenced to page 13 of Cummins, H; Midlo, C. (1943). Fingerprints Palms and Soles: An Introduction to Dermatoglyphics. Dover Publications Inc.
(link to reference is below, as not sure I can add the pdf here to review)
2. Who is the person that may be credited with the idea or suggestions to use fingerprints to solve crimes, identify criminals, or connected Fingerprints to the Criminal Justice System?
This question may depend on your perspective, and interpretation. But here is information to consider, as you do:
- In 1916 Sir William Herschel wrote the Origin of Finger-Printing. In it he related how he had the idea, while working for the Indian Civil Service in Bengal, to use a hand impression, rather than a signature for a legal contract. In his words the writer could not easily disown, without being “infallibly convicted of perjury” (Hershel, 1916, p.9). Herschel, 1916, also states how after many years “the decisiveness of a finger-print is now one of the most powerful aids to Justice” (p.9), and credits it to that moment in 1858.
(Herschel, W. (1916). The Origin of Finger-Printing. Oxford University Press)
- However, also for your consideration when it comes to this question is Henry Faulds, who related that it was "prehistoric" Japanese pottery, with finger marks in the clay that drew his interest to them. But in his paper On the Skin-furrows of the Hand (1880) Faulds suggested that finger-marks or impressions may lead to the scientific identification of criminals. Faulds is credited with a lot of work to demonstrate how this hypothesis specifically is true.
(Faulds, H. (1880) On the Skin-furrows of the Hand. Nature 22, 605.)
Now both Faulds and Herschel were seemingly coming to the same conclusion around the same period of time, in different parts of the world. As such, both deserve mention when examining this question specifically. As both Herschel and Faulds, are among the few key figures in history who have been credited with connecting fingerprints to the Criminal Justice System.