World History 1885

About the history of the world in 1885, Francis Galton begins studying fingerprints, British hero Charles Gordon is killed.



* Francis Galton, 63, English scientist and the father of eugenics, began to study fingerprints and their possible use as a means of positive identification. Although the thumbprint had been used as a signature in ancient times and crimes had already been solved by means of bloody or greasy prints left by careless culprits, it was Galton who first systematically examined fingerprints and proved their uniqueness. After collecting thousands of sets on cards, Galton found that they fell into three general categories-whorl, loop, and arch-but that each bore peculiarities. Equally important, he learned that prints remained unchanged from birth to death. The only problem seemed to be devising a classification system simple yet varied enough to provide quick retrieval. By 1895 he had refined a flexible system to store some 700,000 sets of fingerprints. Further improvements on the Galton system allow the FBI to file over 200 million sets today. Galton's analysis also disproved any connection between intelligence and a specific category of prints. As the British scientist put it, "I have prints of eminent thinkers and of eminent statesmen that can be matched by those of congenital idiots."

Jan. 26 British Gen. Charles Gordon, 52, a folk hero in England for his past military successes and for his part in the suppression of the African slave trade, was killed in the siege of Khartoum after that city's capture by Mohammed Ahmed, the self-proclaimed divine guide (Mahdi) of Islam. British outrage at the Liberal government's failure to dispatch a rescue mission to the Sudan in time to save Gordon contributed to the ouster of Prime Minister Gladstone later that year.

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