Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911)Finger Prints
, London and New York, Macmillan and Co., 1892
Collection of the Health Sciences Library System, University of Pittsburgh
DescriptionIdentification of a human being by means of fingerprint matching may be associated with forensic science, but it is also ultimately a question of categorizing millions of images—in this case, the inky residue of a fingertip pressed onto paper—so that they can quickly and accurately be stored and retrieved. Sir Francis Galton was one of the first to treat this problem scientifically, breaking the features of fingerprints down into sub-headings that allowed their easy storage (as well as forming the basis of making a match with other fingerprints later).
According to Galton’s classification, fingerprints are not stored based on their overall appearance, nor does one pronounce a match between fingerprints using this perceptual standard. Instead, they are decomposed into a series of sub-categories, the selection of which is dictated solely by the ease of storage they allow, not their contribution to a fingerprint’s distinctive look. His book Finger Prints shows a sample of the ways he disassembled the arches, loops, and whorls of a fingerprint into encoded patterns.
Researcher: Alison Langmead and Josh Ellenbogen