When were fingerprints first used for identification?
The fact that human beings had ridges on their fingertips, and that these were different for each person, was known even to prehistoric man! There are ancient Chinese tablets on which fingerprints appear as a way to identify the author of the tablets.
So we can say that fingerprints have been used for personal identification for at least two thousand years. But there is a difference between knowing that man makes individual fingerprints and organizing this information in a scientific way.
The first important contribution to the science of fingerprinting was made by Marcello Malpighi in 1686. Malpighi, an Italian anatomy professor, studied the ridges of fingertips under a microscope. He saw that these ridges were arranged in patterns of loops and spirals.
Fingerprints were first used officially in Europe to identify prisoners in 1858. A few years later, the first study on the possible use of fingerprints was published. This study described a method of taking prints by using a thin film of printer's ink, a method that is still used today.
In the 1880's Sir Francis Gallon, an English scientist, began work on a system for classifying fingerprints. Some years later the system was simplified by Sir Edward Henry, a London police commissioner. Soon after that, fingerprints were being used almost everywhere as a means of identification and crime detection.
Did you know that in many hospitals today the footprints of babies are taken shortly after birth? They are also a means of identification.