There's something timeless about a good detective story. At the end of a long day, it's nice to know that the clues check out, the crooks get caught, and everyone goes home happy. During the early 1930s, Popular Science capitalized on the mystery genre by running a series of articles detailing how the modern detective incorporates science into crime detection. We were enthralled by scientists who could trace a bullet to its weapon simply by examining it under a microscope. We were thrilled that a person's gender and age could be determined from a single strand of hair.
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Nowadays, we're so used to seeing forensics dramatized on TV that we take criminology for granted, but for a generation raised on Edgar Allan Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, these developments were nothing short of marvelous.
Like the first article in our series says, science has trumped Sherlock Holmes as the most trustworthy detective. It takes a clever man to detect circumstantial evidence, but a few damning clues can't compare to solid proof that a week-old bloodstain comes from a particular person. To help our readers understand how the scientists glean knowledge from trace evidence, we visited experts like firearms identification pioneer Calvin Goddard, who used his helixometer, to show us how uses microscopic grooves to differentiate between bullets.
Sometimes we covered cases that were less violent. In a feature called "Hidden Crime Clues Bared by Chemist's Magic," we described how scientists could decode messages written in invisible ink by dipping them in various fluids. A couple of years later, police squads nationwide intercepted similar messages by using amphibian airplanes to trail carrier pigeons owned by the underworld. If that sounds a little quaint, you'll laugh at archive gems like our feature that lauded earography, the science of identifying criminals by their ears.
As silly as it sounds, the earograph apparatus isn't the strangest tool detectives-turned-scientists used during the early days of modern forensics. Click through our gallery to see what else we have in store.