A love of horses ultimately brought William Cashin into the field of fingerprint identification. Born in Plainfield, New Jersey, on January 19, 1904, Cashin took to horses at an early age and became a trick rider. When the time came to choose a career, he decided it would have to be one which enabled him to indulge his passion. He found such a career with the New York State Police.
Mr. Cashin joined the State Police on February 1, 1925 at the age of 21 and graduated from the State Police School with the class of 1926. He moved to Ossining, NY, and was assigned to Troop G in Troy.
In the summer of 1926, while trick-riding for the State Police, he fractured his pelvis and was told he might never walk again. During his lengthy convalescence, two important events occurred. First, while confined to a bed in Samaritan Hospital, he met, and eventually married, Eva Beaulac, his nurse. Secondly, uncertain of his future with the State Police now that he was unable to ride, he began investigating career possibilities which did not involve horses.
Having read something about the new fingerprint system of identification, Trooper Cashin wrote to his uncle, Father William Cashin, Chaplain of Sing Sing Prison, to ask if he knew anything about it. Father Cashin advised his young nephew to contact Clara Parsons, who was in charge of the Prison Department's Identification Files in Albany. Miss Parsons subsequently became Mr. Cashin's private fingerprint tutor.
Miss Parsons taught him at her home during the evenings. He found her to be a kind, prim and patient woman who knew her field well and demanded excellence from her students.
Upon returning to work, Mr. Cashin put his newly acquired skills to use by establishing a Bureau of Identification for Troop G and serving as a fingerprint instructor at the State Police School.
On March 16, 1929, he was promoted to the rank of Corporal, and on August 1, 1930 was made Sergeant.
Over the years he continued to study and learn more about fingerprints and personal identification. When an open competitive examination for fingerprint experts was given in Albany, he took the test and passed.
The sudden death of Clara Parsons on February 21, 1936, left the position of Bureau Chief vacant, and Sergeant Cashin was offered the job.
On August 16, 1936, when he took over as Director of the Division of Criminal Identification, he found himself faced with an overwhelming backlog and a staff too small to cope with the incoming work.
Mr. Cashin secured WPA funds in order to hire additional staff and added a second shift. As the backlog problem slowly came under control, he investigated ways to automate the time-consuming search process.
In 1937, the first automated fingerprint searching machines were installed. IBM horizontal sorters, using punched cards containing coded fingerprint classifications, could search suspect possibilities at a rate of 420 comparisons per minute. Originally, only records in the largest primary group were searched by machine but, as the system proved its worth, additional primaries were converted to the "automated" category.
Mr. Cashin also established a mechanical Personal Appearance File which searched physical descriptions at the rate of 420 per minute, and introduced a system for searching latent prints which the International Association for Identification called "the most notable single contribution in the field of dactyloscopic work in many years."
Although Mr. Cashin was intelligent and ambitious, his formal education had gone only as far as the 5th grade and he required an assistant to write reports, keep records and draft the more complicated letters.
When Mrs. Austin, who had filled that position, retired in 1942, Paul McCann was hired to take her place.
While Assistant Director, Mr. McCann conducted extensive research into the history of the Division and, in 1944, while temporarily filling in as Director, he published James Parke's fingerprint system in book form. The American System of Fingerprint Classification, by Paul D. McCann, contained the most extensive Bureau history up to that time and provided the most detailed description of Captain Parke's fingerprint formula ever published. The book, re-released in 1963, became a standard training tool within the Division.
By the time Mr. Cashin returned to the position of Director, on April 1, 1946, other countries were taking notice of the innovations he had introduced in New York. Fingerprint experts from Canada, Japan, Spain, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Thailand, Israel, Greece, Indonesia and Lebanon came to the Division to study this new technology and learn ways to apply it to their own identification files.
In 1953, Mr. Cashin was commended by the International Association for Identification, and in 1956 received the Governor Charles E. Hughes Award for outstanding service in public administration.
Because of his work in training foreign identification officers, the State Department invited Mr. Cashin to serve as Identification and Records Advisor on an International Cooperation Administration mission in 1959. He spent three months in Greece helping to set up an identification bureau there and, upon his return, was offered a job with the State Department.
Mr. Cashin retired from New York State in 1960 and accepted the job with the US State Department. He worked in Brazil, Bangkok, the Philippines and Venezuela before a close call with an earthquake in Caracas in 1967 convinced him it was time to retire for good.