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Francis Henry Galton

Updated on March 31, 2014
Francis Henry Galton
Francis Henry Galton

Francis Henry Galton was a noted scientist and anthropologist who published a book, in England, called Finger Prints in 1892 but he was not the first person to suggest fingerprint, that was U.S. Microscopist Thomas Taylor but his ideas were not immediately followed up. Then there was the Scottish physician Henry Faulds who made similar assertions and even published a paper in the journal Nature.

Francis Galton, who is considered to be one of the greatest scientists of the nineteenth century, was the first person to actually take all these ideas and undertake in a definitive study of fingerprints. His book, Finger Prints, was the first book of its kind on the subject. In his book, he explained the anatomy of fingerprints and suggested methods for recording them. He also suggested assigning fingerprints to three patterns types- loops, arches, and whorls. Along with eight broad categories- plain arch, tented arch, simple loop, central pocket loop, double pocket loop, lateral pocket loop, plain whorl, and accidental. He also assigned names to their ridge characteristics, sometimes referred to as “Galton Details”- bifurcation, ridge ending, island, and enclosure.

Finger Prints  Written by: Francis Henry Galton
Finger Prints Written by: Francis Henry Galton

More importantly, Francis Galton demonstrated that there are no two prints that are identical and that an individual's prints remain unchanged from year to year. He performed statistical studies of the uniqueness of fingerprints and stated that the chance of there being a duplicate fingerprint was one in sixty-four billion. (At the time there was an estimated five to six billion people in the world.) His study supported the uniqueness of friction ridge formations are also included in his book. His statistical study was just the first of many in which he would undertake. His study was reviewed in the publication Genetics in 1995 and was not only still found to be valid but conservative in his statistical assessment of the chance of a duplicate fingerprint. Also, because of Francis Galton, the British government decided to adopt fingerprinting as a supplement to the Bertillon system.

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