Forensic Science Timeline
BCE Evidence of fingerprints in early paintings and rock carvings of prehistoric humans
700s Chinese used fingerprints to establish identity of documents and clay sculpture, but without any formal classification
(1000) Quintilian, an attorney in the Roman courts, showed that bloody palm prints were meant to frame a blind man of his
1248 A Chinese book,
Hsi Duan Yu (the washing away of wrongs), contains a description of how to distinguish drowning
from strangulation. This was the first recorded application of medical knowledge to the solution of crime.
1609 The first treatise on systematic document examination was published by François Demelle of France
1686 Marcello Malpighi, a professor of anatomy at the University of Bologna, noted fingerprint characteristics. However,
he made no mention of their value as a tool for individual identification.
1784 In Lancaster, England, John Toms was convicted of murder on the basis of the torn edge of wad of newspaper in a
pistol matching a remaining piece in his pocket. This was one of the first documented uses of physical matching.
(1800s) Thomas Bewick, an English naturalist, used engravings of his own fingerprints to identify books he published.
1810 Eugène François Vidocq, in return for a suspension of arrest and a jail sentence, made a deal with the police to
establish the first detective force, the Sûreté of Paris.
1810 The first recorded use of question document analysis occurred in Germany. A chemical test for a particular ink dye
was applied to a document known as the Konigin Hanschritt.
1813 Mathiew Orfila, a Spaniard who became professor of medicinal/forensic chemistry at University of Paris, published
Traite des Poisons Tires des Regnes Mineral, Vegetal et Animal, ou Toxicologie General l
. Orfila is considered the
father of modern toxicology. He also made significant contributions to the development of tests for the presence of
blood in a forensic context and is credited as the first to attempt the use of a microscope in the assessment of blood and
1823 John Evangelist Purkinji, a professorprofessor of anatomy at the University of Breslau, Czecheslovakia, published
the first paper on the nature of fingerprints and suggested a classification system based on nine major types. However,
he failed to recognize their individualizing potential.
1828 William Nichol invented the polarizing light microscope.
(1830s) Adolphe Quetelet, a Belgian statistician, provided the foundation for Bertillon’s work by stating his belief that no two
human bodies were exactly alike.
1831 Leuchs first noted amylase activity in human saliva.
1835 Henry Goddard, one of Scotland Yard’s original Bow Street Runners, first used bullet comparison to catch a
murderer. His comparison was based on a visible flaw in the bullet which was traced back to a mold.
1836 James Marsh, an Scottish chemist, was the first to use toxicology (arsenic detection) in a jury trial.
1839 H. Bayard published the first reliable procedures for the microscopic detection of sperm. He also noted the different
microscopic characteristics of various different substrate fabrics.
1851 Jean Servais Stas, a chemistry professorprofessor from Brussels, Belgium, was the first successfully to identify
vegetable poisons in body tissue.
1853 Ludwig Teichmann, in Kracow, Poland, developed the first microscopic crystal test for hemoglobin using hemin
1854 An English physician, Maddox, developed dry plate photography, eclipsing M. Daguerre’s wet plate on tin method.
This made practical the photographing of inmates for prison records.
1856 Sir William Herschel, a British officer working for the Indian Civil service, began to use thumbprints on documents
both as a substitute for written signatures for illiterates and to verify document signatures.
1862 The Dutch scientist J. (Izaak) Van Deen developed a presumptive test for blood using guaiac, a West Indian shrub.
1863 The German scientist Schönbein first discovered the ability of hemoglobin to oxidize hydrogen peroxide making it
foam. This resulted in first presumptive test for blood.
1864 Odelbrecht first advocated the use of photography for the identification of criminals and the documentation of
evidence and crime scenes.
1877 Thomas Taylor, microscopist to U.S. Department of Agriculture suggested that markings of the palms of the hands
and the tips of the fingers could be used for identification in criminal cases. Although reported in the American
Journal of Microscopy and Popular Science and Scientific American, the idea was apparently never pursued from this
1879 Rudolph Virchow, a German pathologist, was one of the first to both study hair and recognize its limitations.
1880 Henry Faulds, a Scottish physician working in Tokyo, published a paper in the journal Nature suggesting that
fingerprints at the scene of a crime could identify the offender. In one of the first recorded uses of fingerprints to solve
a crime, Faulds used fingerprints to eliminate an innocent suspect and indicate a perpetrator in a Tokyo burglary.
1882 Gilbert Thompson, a railroad builder with the U.S Geological Survey in New Mexico, put his own thumbprint on
wage chits to safeguard himself from forgeries.
1883 Alphonse Bertillon, a French police employee, identified the first recidivist based on his invention of anthropometry.
1887 Arthur Conan Doyle published the first Sherlock Holmes story in Beeton’s Christmas Annual of London.
1889 Alexandre Lacassagne, professorprofessor of forensic medicine at the University of Lyons, France, was the first to
try to individualize bullets to a gun barrel. His comparisons at the time were based simply on the number of lands and
1891 Hans Gross, examining magistrate and professor of criminal law at the University of Graz, Austria, published
, the first comprehensive description of uses of physical evidence in solving crime. Gross is also
sometimes credited with coining the word criminalistics.
1892 (Sir) Francis Galton published Fingerprints, the first comprehensive book on the nature of fingerprints and their use
in solving crime.
1892 Juan Vucetich, an Argentinean police researcher, developed the fingerprint classification system that would come to
be used in Latin America. After Vucetich implicated a mother in the murder of her own children using her bloody
fingerprints, Argentina was the first country to replace anthropometry with fingerprints.
1894 Alfred Dreyfus of France was convicted of treason based on a mistaken handwriting identification by Bertillon.
1896 Sir Edward Richard Henry developed the print classification system that would come to be used in Europe and
North America. He published Classification and Uses of Finger Prints.
1898 Paul Jesrich, a forensic chemist working in Berlin, Germany, took photomicrographs of two bullets to compare, and
subsequently individualize, the minutiae.
1901 Paul Uhlenhuth, a German immunologist, developed the precipiten test for species. He was also one of the first to
institute standards, controls, and QA/QC procedures. Wassermann (famous for developing a test for syphilis) and
independently discovered and published the precipiten test, but never received due credit.
1900 Karl Landsteiner first discovered human blood groups and was awarded the Nobel prize for his work in 1930. Max
Richter adapted the technique to type stains. This is one of the first instances of performing validation experiments
specifically to adapt a method for forensic science. Landsteiner's continued work on the detection of blood, its
species, and its type formed the basis of practically all subsequent work.
1901 Sir Edward Richard Henry was appointed head of Scotland Yard and forced the adoption of fingerprint
identification to replace anthropometry.
1901 Henry P. DeForrest pioneered the first systematic use of fingerprints in the United States by the New York Civil
1902 Professor R.A. Reiss, professor at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and a pupil of Bertillon, set up one of the
first academic curricula in forensic science. His forensic photography department grew into Lausanne Institute of
1903 The New York State Prison system began the first systematic use of fingerprints in United States for criminal
1903 At Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, Kansas, Will West, a new inmate, was initially confused with a resident convict
William West using anthropometry. They were later (1905) found to be easily differentiated by their fingerprints. For a
historical clarification, please see h t tp://www.scafo.org/library/110105.ht m
Oskar and Rudolf Adler developed a presumptive test for blood based on benzidine, a new chemical developed by
1905 American President Theodore Roosevelt established Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
1910 Victor Balthazard, professor of forensic medicine at the Sorbonne, with Marcelle Lambert, published the first
comprehensive hair study, Le poil de l'homme et des animaux. In one of the first cases involving hairs, Rosella
Rousseau was convinced to confess to murder of Germaine Bichon. Balthazard also used photographic enlargements
of bullets and cartridge cases to determining weapon type and was among the first to attempt to individualize a bullet
to a weapon.
1910 Edmund Locard, successor to Lacassagne as professor of forensic medicine at the University of Lyons, France,
established the first police crime laboratory.
1910 Albert S. Osborne, an American and arguably the most influential document examiner, published Questioned
1912 Masaeo Takayama developed another microscopic crystal test for hemoglobin using hemochromogen crystals.
1913 Victor Balthazard, professor of forensic medicine at the Sorbonne, published the first article on individualizing bullet
1915 Leone Lattes, professor at the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Turin Italy, developed the first antibody test for ABO
blood groups. He first used the test in casework to resolve a marital dispute. He published L’Individualità del sangue
nella biologia, nella clinica, nella medicina, legale, the first book dealing not only with clinical issues, but heritability,
paternity, and typing of dried stains.
1915 International Association for Criminal Identification, (to become The International Association of Identification
IAI), was organized in Oakland, California.
1916 Albert Schneider of Berkeley, California first used a vacuum apparatus to collect trace evidence.
1918 Edmond Locard first suggested 12 matching points as a positive fingerprint identification.
1904 Locard published L'enquete criminelle et les methodes scientifique, in which appears a passage that may have given
rise to the forensic precept that “Every contact leaves a trace.”
1920 Charles E. Waite was the first to catalog manufacturing data about weapons.
1920s Georg Popp pioneered the use of botanical identification in forensic work.
1920s Luke May, one of the first American criminalists, pioneered striation analysis in tool mark comparison, including an
attempt at statistical validation. In 1930 he published The identification of knives, tools and instruments, a positive
science, in The American Journal of Police Science.
(1920s) Calvin Goddard, with Charles Waite, Phillip O. Gravelle, and John H Fisher, perfected the comparison microscope
for use in bullet comparison.
1921 John Larson and Leonard Keeler designed the portable polygraph.
1923 Vittorio Siracusa, working at the Institute of Legal Medicine of the R. University of Messina, Italy, developed the
absorbtion-elution test for ABO blood typing of stains. Along with his mentor, Lattes also performed significant work
on the absorbtion-inhibition technique.
1923 In Frye v. United States, polygraph test results were ruled inadmissible. The federal ruling introduced the concept of
and stated that polygraph testing did not meet that criterion.
1924 August Vollmer, as chief of police in Los Angeles, California, implemented the first U.S. police crime laboratory.
1925 Saburo Sirai, a Japanese scientist, is credited with the first recognition of secretion of group-specific antigens into
body fluids other than blood.
1926 The case of Sacco and Vanzetti, which took place in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, was responsible for popularizing
the use of the comparison microscope for bullet comparison. Calvin Goddard’s conclusions were upheld when the
evidence was reexamined in 1961.
1927 Landsteiner and Levine first detected the M, N, and P blood factors leading to development of the MNSs and P
1928 Meüller was the first medico-legal investigator to suggest the identification of salivary amlyase as a presumptive test
for salivary stains.
1929 K. I. Yosida, a Japanese scientist, conducted the first comprehensive investigation establishing the existence of
serological isoantibodies in body fluids other than blood.
1929 Calvin Goddard’s work on the St. Valentine’s day massacre led to the founding of the Scientific Crime Detection
Laboratory on the campus of Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.
1930 American Journal of Police Science was founded and published by staff of Goddard’s Scientific Crime Detection
Laboratory in Chicago. In 1932, it was absorbed by Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, becoming the Journal
of Criminal Law, Criminology and police science.
Franz Josef Holzer, an Austrian scientist, working at the Institute for Forensic Medicine of the University of
Innsbruck, developed the absorbtion-inhibition ABO typing technique that became the basis of that commonly used in
forensic laboratories. It was based on the prior work of Siracusa and Lattes.
1932 The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) crime laboratory was created.
1935 Frits Zernike, a Dutch physicist, invented the first interference contrast microscope, a phase contrast microscope, an
achievement for which he won the Nobel prize in 1953.
1937 Holzer published the first paper addressing the usefulness of secretor status for forensic applications.
1937 Walter Specht, at the University Institute for Legal Medicine and Scientific Criminalistics in Jena, Germany,
developed the chemiluminescent reagent luminol as a presumptive test for blood.
1937 Paul Kirk assumed leadership of the criminology program at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1945, he
formalized a major in technical criminology.
1938 M. Polonovski and M. Jayle first identified haptoglobin.
1940 Landsteiner and A.S. Wiener first described Rh blood groups.
1940 Vincent Hnizda, a chemist with the Ethyl Corporation, was probably the first to analyze ignitable fluid. He used a
vacuum distillation apparatus.
1941 Murray Hill of Bell Labs initiated the study voiceprint identification. The technique was refined by L.G. Kersta.
1945 Frank Lundquist, working at the Legal Medicine Unit at the University of Copenhagen, developed the acid
phosphatase test for semen.
1946 Mourant first described the Lewis blood group system.
1946 R.R. Race first described the Kell blood group system
1950 M. Cutbush, and colleagues first described the Duffy blood group system.
1950 August Vollmer, chief of police of Berkeley, California, established the school of criminology at the University of
California at Berkeley. Paul Kirk presided over the major of criminalistics within the school..
1950 Max Frei-Sulzer, founder of the first Swiss criminalistics laboratory, developed the tape lift method of collecting
1950 The American Academy of Forensic Science (AAFS) was formed in Chicago, Illinois. The group also began
publication of the Journal of Forensic Science (JFS).
1951 F. H. Allen and colleagues first described the Kidd blood grouping system.
1953 Kirk published Crime Investigation, one of the first comprehensive criminalistics and crime investigation texts that
encompassed theory in addition to practice.
1954 R. F. Borkenstein, captain of the Indiana State Police, invented the Breathalyzer for field sobriety testing.
1958 A. S. Weiner and colleagues introduced the use of H-lectin to determine positively O blood type.
1959 Hirshfeld first identified the polymorphic nature of group specific component (Gc).
1960 Lucas, in Canada, described the application of gas chromatography (GC) to the identification of petroleum products in
the forensic laboratory and discussed potential limitations in the brand identity of gasoline.
1960s Maurice Muller, a Swiss scientist, adapted the Ouchterlony antibody-antigen diffusion test for precipiten testing to
1963 D.A. Hopkinson and colleagues first identified the polymorphic nature of erythrocyte acid phosphatase (EAP).
1964 N. Spencer and colleagues first identified the polymorphic nature of red cell phosphoglucomutase (PGM).
1966 R. A. Fildes and H. Harris first identified the polymorphic nature of red cell adenylate cyclase (AK).
1966 Brian J. Culliford and Brian Wraxall developed the immunoelectrophoretic technique for haptoglobin typing in
1967 Culliford, of the British Metropolitan Police Laboratory, initiated the development of gel-based methods to test for
isoenzymes in dried bloodstains. He was also instrumental in the development and dissemination of methods for
testing proteins and isoenzymes in both blood and other body fluids and secretions.
1968 Spencer and colleagues first identified the polymorphic nature of red cell adenosine deaminase (ADA).
1971 Culliford published The Examination and Typing of Bloodstains in the Crime Laboratory, generally accepted as
responsible for disseminating reliable protocols for the typing of polymorphic protein and enzyme markers to the
United States and worldwide.
1973 Hopkinson and colleagues first identified the polymorphic nature of esterase D (ESD).
1974 The detection of gunshot residue (GSR) using scanning electron microscopy with electron dispersive X-rays (SEMEDX)
technology was developed by J. E. Wessel, P. F. Jones, Q. Y. Kwan, R. S. Nesbitt and E. J. Rattin at
1975 J. Kompf and colleagues, working in Germany, first identified the polymorphic nature of red cell glyoxylase (GLO).
1975 The Federal Rules of Evidence, originally promulgated by the U.S. Supreme Court, were enacted as a congressional
statute. They are based on the relevancy standard in which scientific evidence that is deemed more prejudicial than
probative may not be admitted.
1976 Zoro and Hadley in the United Kingdom first evaluated GC-MS for forensic purposes.
1977 Fuseo Matsumur, a trace evidence examiner at the Saga Prefectural Crime Laboratory of the National Police Agency
of Japan, notices his own fingerprints developing on microscope slides while mounting hairs from a taxi driver murder
case. He relates the information to co-worker Masato Soba, a latent print examiner. Soba would later that year be the
first to develop latent prints intentionally by “Superglue®” fuming.
(1977) The fourier transform infrared spectrophotometer (FTIR) is adapted for use in the forensic laboratory.
(1977) The FBI introduced the beginnings of its Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) with the first
computerized scans of fingerprints.
1978 Brian Wraxall and Mark Stolorow developed the “multisystem” method for testing the PGM, ESD, and GLO
isoenzyme systems simultaneously. They also developed methods for typing blood serum proteins such as haptoglobin
1984 (Sir) Alec Jeffreys developed the first DNA profiling test. It involved detection of a multilocus RFLP pattern. He
published his findings in Nature in 1985.
1986 In the first use of DNA to solve a crime, Jeffreys used DNA profiling to identify Colin Pitchfork as the murderer of
two young girls in the English Midlands. Significantly, in the course of the investigation, DNA was first used to
exonerate an innocent suspect.
1983 The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was first conceived by Kerry Mullis, while he was working at Cetus
Corporation. The first paper on the technique was not published until 1985.
1986 The human genetics group at
Cetus Corporation, led by Henry Erlich, developed the PCR technique for a number of
clinical and forensic applications. This resulted in development of the first commercial PCR typing kit specifically for
forensic use, HLA DQa (DQA1), about 2 years later.
1986 In People v. Pestinikas, Edward Blake first used PCR-based DNA testing (HLA DQa) , to confirm different autopsy
samples to be from the same person. The evidence was accepted by a civil court. This was also the first use of any kind
of DNA testing in the United States
1987 DNA profiling was introduced for the first time in a U.S. criminal court. Based on RFLP analysis performed by
, Tommy Lee Andrews was convicted of a series of sexual assaults in Orlando, Florida.
1987 New York v. Castro was the first case in which the admissibility of DNA was seriously challenged. It set in motion a
string of events that culminated in a call for certification, accreditation, standardization, and quality control guidelines
for both DNA laboratories and the general forensic community.
1988 Lewellen, McCurdy, and Horton, and Asselin, Leslie, and McKinley both publish milestone papers introducing a
novel procedure for the analysis of drugs in whole blood by homogeneous enzyme immunoassay (EMIT).
1990 K. Kasai and colleagues published the first paper suggesting the D1S80 locus (pMCT118) for forensic DNA analysis.
D1S80 was subsequently developed by Cetus (subsequently Roche Molecular Systems) corporation as a commercially
available forensic DNA typing system.
1992 In response to concerns about the practice of forensic DNA analysis and interpretation of the results, the National
Research Council Committee on Forensic DNA (NRC I) published DNA Technology in Forensic Science.
1992 Thomas Caskey, professor at Baylor University in Texas, and colleagues published the first paper suggesting the use
of short tandem repeats for forensic DNA analysis. Promega corporation and Perkin-Elmer corporation in
collaboration with Roche Molecular Systems independently developed commercial kits for forensic DNA STR
1991 Walsh Automation Inc., in Montreal, launched development of an automated imaging system called the Integrated
Ballistics Identification System, or IBIS, for comparison of the marks left on fired bullets, cartridge cases, and shell
casings. This system was subsequently developed for the U.S. market in collaboration with the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF).
1992 The FBI contracted with Mnemonic Systems to developed Drugfire, an automated imaging system to compare marks
left on cartridge cases and shell casings. The ability to compare fired bullets was subsequently added.
1993 In Daubert et al. v. Merrell Dow, a U.S. federal court relaxed the Frye standard for admission of scientific evidence
and conferred on the judge a “gatekeeping” role. The ruling cited Karl Popper’s views that scientific theories are
falsifiable as a criterion for whether something is “scientific knowledge” and should be admissible.
(1994) Roche Molecular Systems (formerly Cetus) released a set of five additional DNA markers (“polymarker”) to add to
the HLA-DQA1 forensic DNA typing system.
1996 In response to continued concerns about the statistical interpretation of forensic DNA evidence, a second National
Research Council Committee on Forensic DNA (NRC II) was convened and published The Evaluation of Forensic
1996 The FBI introduced computerized searches of the AFIS fingerprint database. Live scan and card scan devices allowed
1996 In Tennessee v. Ware, mitochondrial DNA typing was admitted for the first time in a U.S. court.
1998 An FBI DNA database, NIDIS, enabling interstate cooperation in linking crimes, was put into practice.
1999 The FBI upgraded its computerized fingerprint database and implemented the Integrated Automated Fingerprint
Identification System (IAFIS), allowing paperless submission, storage, and search capabilities directly to the national
database maintained at the FBI.
1999 A Memorandum of Understanding is signed between the FBI and ATF, allowing the use of the National Integrated
Ballistics Network (NIBIN), to facilitate exchange of firearms data between Drugfire and IBIS.