History of Forensics

Forensic science is the principles and techniques that identify evidence at a crime scene. But how did it begin? And how has it evolved? Investigate further for some vital clues.

Body of Proof

Physical evidence

In 1784, an Englishman was convicted of murder when a torn piece of newspaper that held the murder weapon matched a piece in his pocket - the first documented use of physical evidence. In 1835, Scotland Yard's Henry Goddard first used bullet comparison to catch a killer by tracing the bullet back to its mould. It wasn't until the 1950s that the first tape-lift method of securing evidence was invented.

It's in the blood

Modern toxicology began in 1813 when Mathieu Orfila developed tests for the presence of blood, and used a microscope to investigate blood and bodily fluids. In 1900 human blood groups were identified, and in 1915 a method for determining blood types was discovered - and was used immediately in criminal investigations. Luminol was developed in 1937. This reveals blood residue even when the blood has been cleaned up.


Italian professor Malpighi noted fingerprint characteristics in 1686, but it wasn't until 1892 that Francis Galton developed a way of classifying fingerprints for filing. He published the first book on fingerprints and their use in solving crime. Scotland Yard introduced fingerprint identification to Britain in 1901.

Sherlock Holmes

Not that the fictional detective invented forensics, but his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was hugely influential in popularizing crime detection methods. Holmes was a pioneer in fingerprinting, firearm identification and blood analysis.


Sir Alec Jeffreys developed the first DNA profiling test, and applied it in 1986 to identify the killer of two girls and to free an innocent suspect. In 1987, DNA was used for the first time in the US when a man was convicted of a series of sexual assaults. By 1998, the FBI had introduced a DNA database for interstate cooperation.


The Federal Bureau of Investigation has played a big role in the history of forensics since their crime lab was created in 1932. The FBI introduced the Automated Fingerprint Identification System with the first computerised scans of prints in the 1970s, and in the 1990s developed Drugfire, an automated imaging system for ballistics.