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Abraham Lincoln’s Fingerprint Discovered on a Letter


Many genealogists are in possession of old family letters. Have you ever considered the possibility that these letters might contain more than just handwriting from your ancestors? That’s what Lydia Smith, a first-year student at Miami University, discovered when she was transcribing a letter written by Abraham Lincoln for a class project. She noticed a smudge on the letter. Upon closer examination, it appeared to be a fingerprint. Experts looked at the letter and confirmed that it was Lincoln’s thumbprint.

Fingerprints of Abraham Lincoln are rare. Only a few are known to exist. Most are on old documents. The first authenticated fingerprint of Lincoln was not verified until 1957 on (oddly enough) another letter in Miami University’s collection, which now has two letters with Lincoln’s fingerprints.

When Abraham Lincoln was a young boy, he learned to write with a quill pen. Even a careful writer would occasionally get ink on their fingers, particularly on the thumb of their writing hand (to see why, try holding a pen in your hand). Over time, people progressed to fountain pens. However, early fountain pens tended to spill ink, also usually onto people’s thumbs. The first practical fountain pen was only invented in 1884 by Lewis Waterman. Known at the capillary feed fountain pen, it was the basis for the success of the Waterman pen company. The ball point pen was not invented until 1938, just before the start of World War II.

Accidental thumbprints on letters are not common but they can occur even on letters written in the early 1900’s. Perhaps it is time to dust off some of those old family letters to see what else your ancestors may have left you.

Celebrating Lincoln’s Birthday

This month marks the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. He was born on 12 February 1809. Here are some fun and interesting facts about Lincoln:

• Abraham Lincoln was the first president born outside of the original 13 states. He was born on a farm in Hardin County, Kentucky (now part of LaRue County).

• At 6 foot 4 inches, Abraham Lincoln still remains the tallest president (Lyndon Johnson is the second tallest at 6 foot 3 inches). During Lincoln’s time, it was unusual for someone to be that tall and strong.

• Abraham Lincoln was the first president to be granted a patent (in 1849 for a type of buoy).

• Abraham Lincoln was the first president to have his image on a coin (the penny in 1909, where his image remains today).

• Abraham Lincoln was also the first president to have his image on paper money (the $10 bill in 1862).

• Unfortunately, Abraham Lincoln was also the first president to be assassinated (in 1865).

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