Ivan Vučetić: Inventor of fingerprinting

Ivan Vučetić, Croatian inventor of the fingerprinting method
Image by CroExpress

UPDATED: 27/09/22

Fingerprints are unique natural signatures of each person in the world. The technique that is used to identify people using fingerprints is called “daktiloskopija”, which is a method used to solve crimes around the world.

This wouldn’t be possible without Ivan Vučetić, a Croat who invented this fingerprinting technique in the 19th century. Ivan Vučetić is the most popular Croat to have ever worked for a foreign police force.

In this post, we cover:

Ivan Vučetić: Inventor of fingerprinting

Ivan’s childhood and migration to Argentina

Ivan Vučetić was born on island Hvar on July 20, 1858. As a child, he helped his father make casks and barrels for the family business. He was educated in a Franciskan monastery on Hvar where he learned Italian and German.

Due to the poor economic conditions on the island of Hvar and in Croatia at the time, he moved to Argentina with his brother and several friends when he was 26 years old. He was considered a deserter of the Austro-Hungarian army, so he changed his name to Juan Vucetich Kovachevich.

Four years after his arrival to Argentina, he started working at the Office of Statistics of the Central Police Office in La Plata. His job was to identify violators of the law through the Bertillon system, which uses a method of body proportions.

Over time, Vučetić noticed that the Bertillon system had flaws. He began examining the work of British anthropologist Sir Francis Galton. Galton had already discovered that each person’s fingerprints were unique.

Invention of the fingerprint technique “daktiloskopija”

In 1891, Vučetić took over the identification office and invented the equipment for taking and archiving fingerprints. He also invented a tool called “daktilofon” (typist) with 10 openings to fit the fingers of both hands. To use, a personal card called “ficha” was inserted into the typist. Vučetić called the method “daktiloskopski fiš”.

His method was revolutionary. Fingerprinting helped him to solve a very complex criminal case called “Rojas” in 1892. A mother accused her lover of murdering her two children. Vučetić’s method revealed that the mother was actually the killer, after taking her fingerprints.

Ivan’s method was the catalyst in the creation of a new science he called “daktiloskopija (fingerprinting)”. This forensic technique examines papillary lines formed in various forms on the cheek bones and joints of the fingers, palms and feet. It is used to identify living and dead people, both innocent and those who have committed crimes on the basis of their papillary lines.

Today’s modern fingerprinting systems used around the world are based on Ivan Vučetić’s invention. His breakthrough has led to the solving of millions of crimes around the world. He is not only a great Croatian inventor, but also an inventor of world importance.

Vučetić’s fingerprinting technique was officially introduced in:

  • Argentina in 1902
  • Austria-Hungary in 1902
  • Germany in 1903
  • England in 1904
  • Russia in 1907
  • France in 1914

“Rojas” criminal case

The “Rojas” criminal case was a national sensation in Argentina at the time. In June 1892 in a small Argentine city called Necochea, a 6-year-old boy Ponciano Carballo Rojas and his 4-year-old sister Teresa Carballo Rojas were murdered. Their mother Francisca Rojas claimed that they were killed by her lover Pedro Velasquez. She also had a knife wound on her neck.

Pedro claimed that he wasn’t guilty and had an alibi. Police inspector Eduardo Alvarez from La Plata came to the place of crime and noticed a blood print on the door. He then demanded to compare the mother’s fingerprints with the blood prints found on the door.

With his new fingerprint technique, Vučetić concluded that Francisca killed her children. She admitted her guilt and was sentenced to life imprisonment. This is the first criminal case in the world that was solved using the fingerprint technique “daktiloskopija” invented by Ivan Vučetić.

Fun facts about Ivan Vučetić

Vučetić was also a great composer and played clarinet very well. When he was young, he was the leader of Hvarska gradska glazba (Hvar City Music).

Ivan Vučetić traveled to Argentina by boat from Trieste as a hidden passenger without documents. He hid in a coal room to not be detected.

Before working for the police in La Plata, he worked in a state company for public sewage and wastewater.

A police museum and a neighborhood in La Plata as well as a school in Rosario, Argentina were all named after him.

The city park in Hvar is adorned with a bust of Ivan Vučetić created by Croatian sculptor Joakim Jaki Gregov and floor mosaic “Otisak prsta” (a fingerprint) created by Tonka Alujević.

He founded a non-profit association called “A drop of milk” in 1905. Their aim is to help the children of killed police officers. The association grew into a humanitarian foundation for neglected children.

Vučetić always left a fingerprint of his right index finger together with his signature.

He spoke four foreign languages: Italian, German, Spanish, and French. He was married three times and had five children (four daughters and a son).

After moving to Argentina, Vučetić visited Hvar only once. It was in 1913 during his scientific tour across North America, Asia and Europe where he visited 18 countries and 43 cities. Hvarska gradska glazba (Hvar City Music) greeted him with a performance of his own music.

Vučetić died from tuberculosis on January 25, 1925 in Dolores, Argentina. He was beloved in Argentina.

MUP forensic department “Ivan Vučetić”

Croatian police (MUP) has named one of their departments after Ivan Vučetić. It is a forensic science center called Centar za forenzična ispitivanja, istraživanja i vještačenja “Ivan Vučetić”.

They perform forensic expertise in almost all criminal offenses in Croatia. Their job is to convert material traces into evidence.

They specialize in:

  • Biological expertise (DNA)
  • Chemical-physical expertise
  • Chemical and physical methods for determining traces of shooting
  • Dactyloscopic expertise of papillary line prints
  • Drug expertise
  • Expertise of documents and manuscripts
  • Expertise of mechanical traces of burglary and burglary tools
  • Expertise of paints, glass, and rubber
  • Expertise of short and long firearms
  • Expertise of textile fiber contact traces
  • Mechanical-technological expertise
  • Toxicological expertise (drug and alcohol in blood and urine
  • Traffic expertise

How to get fingerprints taken in Croatia

From 2021, Croatia is requiring all non-EU first-time applicants for residence to provide a criminal background check from their home countries. A background check is also required of everyone applying for Croatian citizenship.

For Americans, South Africans and some other nationalities to get a background check, they must provide fingerprints to their respective governments. This is always easier to do in your home country before coming to Croatia.

We are proud to share that due to the lobbying efforts of our lawyers, MUP has directed all of their stations to offer this as a service to non-Croatian citizens. However, since implementation, Zagreb has become overwhelmed and now pushes people to private detective agencies to have it done. So far, this is the only station that is refusing to do it. All other stations appear to be towing the line.

To learn where to get a background check in 20 countries, check out our guide here.

Learn about other prominent Croatian figures

Ivan Vučetić: Sherlock Holmes s Hvara by croatia.hr
Na današnji dan rođen je Ivan Vučetić, utemeljitelj daktiloskopije by Grad Hvar
Centar za forenzična ispitivanja, istraživanja i vještačenja “Ivan Vučetić”
Hrvat koji je prvi rješio zločin uz pomoć otisaka prstiju by Jutarnji list

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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