Long before camera phones or Snapchat or Instagram, people have been taking "selfies." And here in Philadelphia, we’ve been doing it the longest.
In fact, we’re home to what likely is the world’s very first selfie. Taken in October 1839 by Robert Cornelius, a Philly-based metallurgist, the photo shows a scruffy Cornelius standing slightly off-center in the frame, arms folded and looking past the camera. Throw a beanie on him, and you’ve got the next great American Apparel model.
Cornelius snapped the photo, a daguerreotype, outside of his family’s lamp shop, with historians estimating that he had the hold that pose for anywhere from three to 15 minutes. Inscribed on the back is a message reading “The first light picture ever taken. 1839.”
Now housed in the Library of Congress, Cornelius’ self-portrait (as they were called before us Millennials got a hold of the style) predates two selfies from the early 1900s touted by Business Insider as the older set this past October. As per the Library of Congress’ website:
Daguerre announced his invention of a photographic method to the French Academy of Sciences in August 1839. That October, a young Philadelphian, Robert Cornelius, working out of doors to take advantage of the light, made this head-and-shoulders self-portrait using a box fitted with a lens from an opera glass. In the portrait, Cornelius stands slightly off-center with hair askew, in the yard behind his family’s lamp and chandelier store, peering uncertainly into the camera. Early daguerreotypy required a long exposure time, ranging from three to fifteen minutes, making the process nearly impractical for portraiture.
Following his experimentation with this photo, Cornelius reportedly opened up one of the world’s first photography studios at what is now 8th and Ranstead in Center City (now literally a parking lot). Unfortunately, though, that venture was short-lived, with Cornelius returning to the family lamp business in just under a few years.