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The World’s First Selfie Was Taken in 1839

The World’s First Selfie Was Taken in 1839
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The world’s first “selfie” is attributed to a self portrait taken in 1839 by Robert Cornelius.

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History

Although the word “selfie” is a modern term for a self-taken photograph, the practice is far from new. In fact, the world’s first selfie is typically attributed to Robert Cornelius who snapped this photo of himself back in 1839.

Robert Cornelius

Cornelius’ expertise in silver plating and metal polishing led to his experimentation with the daguerrotype photographic process. The iconic Cornelius selfie was taken behind the family store in Philadelphia. He removed the lens cap from the camera, ran into the frame where he held a pose with his arms crossed, then covered the lens again. On the back of the photo Cornelius wrote, “The first light picture ever taken. 1839.”

Some sources state that Cornelius held the pose for about a minute, while Guinness World Records states that it would typically take “3 to 15 minutes” with the daguerrotype process.

Selfie

The modern term for a self-taken photograph, the selfie, has been traced as far back as 2002, when it was used in a forum post. It was added to the Oxford Words on the Radar series in 2012 and named word of the year later. The official definition reads:

A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media.

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Some purists have said that Cornelius’ shot should not be considered a true selfie because he is not actually holding the camera, although the Oxford definition does not specify this requirement. Guinness World Records acknowledges the Cornelius photo as the “First Selfie” on page 207 of its 2015 edition.

Time listed the word “selfie” as one of its Top 10 Buzzwords of 2012. As you can see from the Google Trends chart below, search history of the word “selfie” exploded in 2013 and has remained high ever since.

By the beginning of the 20th century, self-portraits were increasingly common, as seen in the two examples below.

Henri Evenepoel selfie

A selfie by Belgian painter Henri Evenepoel from around 1897-1898.

1900 selfie

A box camera selfie from around 1900.

Bottom Line

The world’s first selfie is generally attributed to Robert Cornelius, who took a photograph of himself back in 1839.

Updated January 15, 2016
Originally published May 2015

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