What Did the World’s First Mug Shots Look Like?

The mug shot has, by now, become so universal that it’s hard to imagine a criminal justice system without it. But in the mid-19th century, when photography was still a new medium, there was no standardized record-keeping system in place to help police departments identify repeat criminals. Random daguerreotypes and loose photographs laying around unfiled weren’t cutting it — which is why in the early 1880s, French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon introduced the Paris police force to a standardized method that documented mug shots, body measurements, and in some cases, early finger prints.

That anthropometric Bertillon System, which was a recent subject of the podcast “Stuff You Missed in History Class,” would eventually be replaced with finger printing in the 1910s. But until then, its strange measurements — the width of the head, length of right ear, length of the cubit, etc. — represented huge advances in forensic science and criminal identification in both Europe and the States. Below the jump, browse through our gallery of Bertillon Card mug shots of 19th- and 20th-century suspicious persons, and make your own with the blanks we’ve included at the end.


[Images via DNA Learning Center]

Two Bertillon cards depicting Alphonse Bertillon