In 1879 Alphonse Bertillon began working as a clerk in the criminal records office of the Paris police department. With a sharp mind for statistics and a keen interest in anthropology, he noticed immediately the filing system lacking; criminal records had vague descriptions and low quality photography for the 'mug shot'.
Determined to improve methods of identifying offenders, he chose a practical approach of recording body measurements. His belief that the likelihood of any two people having the exact measurements would be next to impossible was the core of his new system, which he called 'anthropometry'.
By 1884, Bertillon's system was the method for filing criminal data, having successful results not only in determining repeat offenders but also in identifying human remains at crime scenes.
By the twentieth century, the Bertillon system was displaced by easily-recorded fingerprints.