Division of Criminal Justice Services

The American System of Fingerprint Classification

Parke was quick to see the possibilities of fingerprint identification and immediately set out to gain converts. Less than a month after beginning his fingerprint collection, he wrote to Commissioner-General Larned of the US Treasury Department, urging him to adopt the fingerprint method. Larned's reply of polite disinterest prompted a second letter, which was similarly received.

There was notice taken of New York's Fingerprint Unit, however. On June 12, 1903, three months after its inception, the Union Bureau of News sent a letter to Superintendent Collins requesting permission to write an article about it. At the time, Parke had not yet finalized his classification system and Collins, preferring to wait "until the subject was in more definite shape," denied the request.

The Union Bureau waited politely for four months, then made another request. Whatever reply Collins might have made to this second letter came a few days too late for, on Sunday, November 8, 1903, The New York Herald published a full-page, illustrated article by Josiah Flynt entitled, "The Fingerprint of The Criminal."

Mr. Flynt's article not only promoted the English System, but declared that no one in America knew anything about fingerprinting. It was also comically biased toward the British, and barely stopped short of concluding that all American law enforcement officers were dull-witted and dishonest.

Letter to NY Herald Parke responded the following morning with a letter to the Herald, pointing out Mr. Flynt's oversight. In his rebuttal, Parke noted that he had taken the fingerprints of nearly the entire prison population of New York State and had classified them "by a purely American system."

The next day Parke wrote to William Potter, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, providing him with a copy of Mr. Flynt's article and the proposition that he be allowed to visit Washington to demonstrate his system. "I am now working out a modification of the English classification," Parke said, "that will greatly simplify that important part of the work."

Despite increasing public awareness of fingerprints, Parke's only convert was Superintendent Collins, who began to place more credibility in Parke and his classification system. Early in 1904, all Bertillon Units in the State's prison system were ordered to begin collecting fingerprints along with Bertillon measurements.

By April of 1904, the details of Parke's system had been worked out. Aside from his son, however, Parke was the only person who knew the classification formula, and the sudden influx of fingerprint slips soon became too much for him to keep up with.

In another show of support, Collins selected Captain Parke and Mr. Emerson E. Davis, Jr. (who was now head of Dannemora's Bertillon Unit) to represent the Prison Department at The Universal Exposition of 1904 in St. Louis, MO.

This was a grand opportunity for both Collins and Parke. It rekindled Collins' ambition of realizing a Central Bureau of Identification in Albany and boosted Parke's hopes of establishing his fingerprint formula as the North American equivalent of the Henry System.

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