The ancient Chinese had recognized the potential of fingerprints, sealing their documents with thumbprints by way of a "signature." An English naturalist, Thomas Bewick, used wood-block engravings of his own fingerprints as an imprint on the books he published. In the early nineteenth century, a Czech physiologist called Purkinje set out a description of the nature of fingerprints and classified various kinds. But it wasn't until 1880 that an expatriate Scottish physician, Dr. Henry Faulds, living in Japan, first recognized their forensic potential, suggesting that fingerprints found at the scene of a crime could lead to the conclusive identification of the culprit.
Fauld's idea led to the publication in 1892 of the scientific exploration of fingerprints by Dr. Francis Galton. This in turn prompted Englishman Edward Henry and an Argentinian researcher Juan Vucetich to develop more sophisticated classification systems for fingerprints. [They were grouped into arches, loops and whorls. In 1901, Scotland Yard began collecting fingerprints from arrestees. In 1906, the St. Louis Police Department became the first U.S. law enforcement agency to start a fingerprint bureau. Many American police agencies didn't adopt fingerprinting until the 1920s.]
Roger Wilkes, ed, The Mammoth Book of Murder & Science, 2000