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'Orthometre', eye measuring device for criminal identification system, Paris, France, 1895

'Orthometre', eye measuring device for criminal identification system, Paris, France, 1895

Credits: National Railway Museum

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The protrusion or retraction of the eyeballs is measured by an Orthometre. It was designed by French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon (1853–1914) for his ‘anthropometrics’ system. This recorded detailed physical measurements to identify individuals. Bertillon used various tools to measure height, head circumference, arm length, leg length, finger lengths and eyeball protrusion. His system was used to identify suspects in criminal cases. The system was extremely popular in France, leading to many convictions. It was superseded by more accurate and less labour-intensive fingerprinting. Bertillon pioneered many modern forensics techniques such as the ‘mug shot’, which is the standardised photography of criminals.

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Glossary: anthropometry

The measuring of body parts so that comparisons can be made. The aim is to measure normal and abnormal development. In the past, it has also been used in attempts to measure racial difference.

Glossary: anthropometrical measure

The practise of measuring different parts of the human body in the hope of using them to determine personal characteristics. The practise is no longer accepted as scientific.