Brief History of Forensics and its Development

Forensic science was used as far back as the 700s!  The Chinese actually used fingerprints to establish identity of documents and clay sculpture.  The major advances were made later in the 1800s and 1900s, and it is still advancing today.  Some of the advances in the 1800s include:

-first recorded use of questioned document analysis
-development of tests for the presence of blood in a forensic context
-bullet comparison used to catch a murderer
-first recorded use of fingerprints to solve a crime
-development of the first microscope with a comparison bridge

Forensic science was significantly applied in 1888, when doctors in London, England, were allowed to examine victims of Jack the Ripper for wound patterns. 

Advances of the 1900s include:

-establishment of the popular practice of using the comparison microscope for bullet comparison in the 1920s

-development of the absorption-inhibition ABO blood typing technique in 1931
-development of the chemiluminescent reagent luminol as a presumptive test for blood
-study of voiceprint identification
-invention of the Breathalyzer for field sobriety tests
-identification of the polymorphic nature of red blood cells
-enactment of the Federal Rules of Evidence (1975)
-evaluation of the gas chromatograph and the mass spectrometer for forensic purposes
-development of the polymerase chain reaction technique for clinical and forensic applications

The 1980s ended with a couple DNA firsts: the use of DNA to solve a crime and exonerate an innocent suspect (1986), and the introduction of DNA profiling (1987).

A few specific discoveries and advancements are also listed below:

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 a crime.
In Lancaster, England, John Toms was convicted of murder on the basis of the torn edge of a wad of newspaper in a pistol matching a remaining piece in his pocket.  This was one of the first documented uses of physical matching.
Mathiew Orfila 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 semen stains.
Sir Francis Galton published Fingerprints, the first comprehensive book on the nature of fingerprints and their use in solving crime.
August Vollmer, a chief of police in Los Angeles, California, implemented the first US police crime laboratory.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation crime laboratory was created.
The American Academy of Forensic Science (AAFS) was formed in Chicago, Illinois.  The group also began the publication of the Journal of Forensic Science (JFS).
The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was first conceived by Kerry Mullis.
Sir Alec Jeffreys developed the first DNA profiling test.  It involved detection of a multilocus RFLP pattern.
DNA profiling was introduced for the first time in a US criminal court.  Tommy Lee Andrews was convicted of a series of sexual assaults in Orlando, Florida.
In response to concerns about the practice of DNA analysis and interpretation of the results, the National Research Council Committee on Forensic DNA published DNA Technology in Forensic Science.

Home                Links within my website

This is a site created for ISSI470, an academic course at Monmouth College.