By the mid-1800s, cities grew rapidly with better farming and the boom of the industrial revolution. With more people in more concentrated areas, there was an enormous need to identify them. Local, individual knowledge was no longer enough.


Influenced by the writings of Utilitarian thinkers like Jeremy Bentham, the courts began to set concepts of justice in stone, many of which are still used today – such as being more lenient on first time offenders and harsher on repeat ones. Thus, a system to record offenses and assign them to individuals based on their exact identity was needed.


  • In 1858, Sir William Herschel employed the first systematic capture of finger and hand images for identity verification. He did this while working in India’s Civil Service, recording employees’ handprints on the back of their worker contracts – by doing so, he could tell real employees versus imposters on payday.
  • In 1870s Paris, Alphonse Bertillon developed a new biometric method, known as anthropometries or Bertillonage. It classified criminals based on their body measurements (height, arm length, and other parameters) and physical descriptions, which were written on cards, in addition to photographs. This helped capture repeat offenders who often gave different names to law enforcement. While an imperfect system, due to the fact that many people have similar body measurements, it became the launching catalyst for using scientific methods to record physical characteristics to authenticate identity.
  • In the 1880s, fingerprints became a method to identify criminals and sign contracts. It is during this decade that we can attribute Edward Henry with the development of the Henry Classification System standard, which quickly phased out Bertillon’s methods. It was a robust system for indexing fingerprints developed in India by Azizul Haque who served for Henry as Inspector General of Police in Bengal. Henry later established the first British fingerprint files in London and variations of this system are still in use around the world today.
  • In 1892, Sir Francis Galton authored an in-depth study of fingerprints. In it, he suggested a classification system that used prints from all 10 fingers. The characteristics that Galton used to identify people are still in use today. In fact, it was the precursor to the classification system used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other criminal justice organizations that perform tenprint fingerprint searches.
  • In 1896, Henry collaborated with Galton to devise a method of classifying and storing fingerprint information so it could be used more efficiently on a larger scale.