See The First Recorded Selfie In Human History, Taken In 1839

All hail chemist and metallurgist Robert Cornelius, whose decision to take a photo of himself in 1839 was perhaps more prescient than any of us wanted.

There was a time when you could choose to ignore the word “selfie,” hoping it would go away. In recent months, however, the popularity of this word has exploded, culminating in a Word of the Year win, joining beloved gems such as “metrosexual” and “soccer mom.” Whether we like this word, or the narcissistic practice it represents, clearly it’s not going anywhere. Now let’s take a look back at where it all apparently began.

Robert Cornelius, self-portrait; believed to be the earliest extant American portrait photo; 1839 (Oct. or Nov.)

According to the Library of Congress, chemist and metallurgist Robert Cornelius is believed to be the first person to ever stare into the unblinking iris of a machine, beseeching it to capture his ephemeral essence forever. His self-shot daguerreotype from 1839 is the earliest known American portrait photo. It was taken in the yard of his family’s lighting store, back when long exposure times rendered the idea of photographing people just a wonderful dream. We’ve already seen what some historical photos might look like as selfies, but now we have the real deal to measure against.

Consider taking a moment to thank the late Mr. Cornelius using the Instagram hashtag of your choosing.

H/t to i09

About the author

Joe Berkowitz is a writer and staff editor at Fast Company. His next book, Away with Words, is available June 13th from Harper Perennial.