When photography was invented in the first half of the 19th century, it seemed to be the solution to problems with criminal identification that
As early as 1841 the French
began making daguerreotypes of prisoners, but the earliest mug shot still in existence was taken by Belgian officials in 1843. Within the same decade, British Police also employed their first professional photographer. At
first, photographs of criminals were mainly used as a tool to help
familiarise regional Police with vagrants who would move from place
to place committing crimes. Soon, however, many prisons began
systematically photographing incarcerated prisoners in order to
supplement their written descriptions and help defeat the use of
aliases. In 1854 Swiss authorities began circulating photographs of
criminals to the public for the first time, pre-empting the 'Wanted'
posters that were made famous in the American Wild West during the
In 1858 the New York Police Department opened it’s first ‘rogues gallery’ to the public (see image below). Here, people were invited to look through galleries of mug shots in order to familiarize themselves with local criminals, and possibly help identify offenders. Rather than a practical aid to police, however, some scholars have criticised rogues galleries as merely a source of entertainment for
Chelsea Nichols, March 2010. Unless otherwise stated, all images and information found on this website are property of the New Zealand Police Museum.