Discover the importance and history of fingerprints. Check out our “Dusting for Fingerprints” activity to help your child try his or her own detective work. history of fingerprints, dusting for fingerprints, detective work, fingerprinting facts

Do Your Own Detective Work by Dusting for Fingerprints

By: Dan Reiner

From TV, movies, and books, children learn early on that fingerprints are crucial to crime solving. But do they understand exactly why we use them—and how?

Why not get your child engaged in his or her own detective work and a fun learning experience? Try our hands-on “Dusting for Fingerprints” activity. It teaches your child how to make and uncover fingerprints using tools found around the house. Kids of all ages will find this do-it-yourself approach much more exciting than watching detectives on TV.

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Fun Fingerprinting Facts

Want to learn more about the history of fingerprints? Check out the following fun facts below:

  • Fingerprints were used for identification on clay seals by the Chinese as early as 221 B.C .1

  • Before fingerprints were widely used for identification, the U.S. criminal justice system used the Bertillon system, which involved taking measurements of a person’s body. This system was called into question when a man named Will West was admitted to Leavenworth Penitentiary, but there was already a prisoner named William West who had nearly identical Bertillon measurements. The two men, who looked very similar, were only distinguishable by their fingerprints.1

  • In the late nineteenth century, fingerprints captured the imaginations of two famous authors. Mark Twain wrote about a murder that was solved using fingerprint identification in his novel Life on the Mississippi,2 and in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story, “The Norwood Builder,” a bloody fingerprint provides Sherlock Holmes with a clue that helps solve the mystery.3

  • Fingerprinting was first used systematically in 1904, when all criminals in New York were fingerprinted using the American Classification System.1


1Fingerprint Sourcebook – Chapter 1: History,” by Jeffery G. Barnes, the National Criminal Justice Reference Service.
2Fingerprint History,” the U.S. Marshals Service.
3The Adventure of the Norwood Builder,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Complete Sherlock Holmes.