DC Police History: Fingerprint Expert, Detective Frederick G. Sandberg

One of DC's finest -- Detective Fred Sandberg ca. 1920 (Photo from the Library of Congress).

One of DC’s finest — Detective Fred Sandberg ca. 1920 (Photo from the Library of Congress).

Here’s some Washington police history that I think is a bit fun. It’s certainly not anything that is generally talked about these days — at least that I know of. It centers on Detective Fred Sandberg of the Washington, D.C. Police Department.

According to newspaper accounts, Sandberg was the head of the Police Department’s Bureau of Identification before he retired in 1933, and he was considered one of the country’s leading fingerprint experts.

Sandberg was born in Sweden and emigrated to the U.S. in 1888. After serving in the Army, he was appointed to the Metropolitan Police Force in 1903. In rising through the ranks, he was promoted to detective sergeant in 1917 and made lieutenant in charge of the Bureau of Identification in 1932. He was placed on the retired list in October 1933.

At the time of his retirement, Sandberg was believed to have been the first American police officer assigned to fingerprint work, that being in 1904. But while his work in fingerprinting may sound like a familiar part of police work today, I found his work in printing noses more interesting.

Around the onset of the 1920s, the nose prints of animals was also explored. Sandberg is said to have developed a system of classifying dogs by there nose prints as no two are the same. The way one newspaper put it in 1923 was this: “Thumb prints for men, hoof prints for horses, and nose prints for pups.”

Sandberg dog nose prints(Fred Sandberg taking a nose print from a dog. Photo from authors collection)

Nose prints were also considered a method of preserving identification records for pure bred cattle. The procedure for making a nose print from a cow was described as simple. “The cow’s head is taken under the left arm, its nose wiped and ink applied with a soaked stamping pad. A small board to which mimeograph paper has been attached takes the imprint. The lower edge of the paper is started at the base of the cow’s upper lip and with slight, even pressure rolled upward. The resultant nose print is a permanent record, as noses do not change with time.” (Washington Post, June 5, 1922, p. 6)

Clearly, this did not escape the notice of Detective Sandberg. Below are two photos of him testing his skill with taking nose prints from a cow at the U.S. Soldiers’ Home in 1922.

sandberg soldiers home 1

(Detective Fred Sandberg at the U.S. Soldiers’ Home taking nose prints from one of their registered Holsteins. Images from the Library of Congress (above) and the author (below)).

Sandberg Soldiers Home

Explore posts in the same categories: Armed Forces Retirement Home, History

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2 Comments on “DC Police History: Fingerprint Expert, Detective Frederick G. Sandberg”

  1. Angry Parakeet Says:

    That is a unique story! But the way you described his work with nose prints before saying DOG nose prints, I had a funny mental image of humans’ noses being inked up.


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