Although Galton was not the first to propose the use of fingerprints for identification (Sir William Herschel had used them in India for this purpose) he was the first to place their study on a scientific basis and so lay the groundwork for their use in criminal cases. He was able to collect a large sample of prints through his Anthropological laboratories, eventually amassing over 8,000 sets. His study of minutiae in prints provided the foundation for meaningful comparison of different prints, and he was able to construct a statistical proof of the uniqueness, by minutiae, of individual prints.
Galton also provided the first workable fingerprint classification system, which was later adapted by E. R. Henry for practical use in police forces and other bureaucratic settings. Most of all, Galton’s extensive popular advocacy of the use of prints helped to convince a skeptical public that they could be used reliably for identification.
Galton published two major works about fingerprints. The cover of the first, FingerPrints, contained a full set of his own prints. He also published an important booklet on decipherment of blurred fingerprints.