See the very first (surprisingly handsome) selfie... from 1839

A Philadelphia photographer was believed to be the first person to turn the camera on himself, unwittingly launching a revolution that would stay dormant until the smartphone age more than 170 years later.

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Eric Mack
2 min read
Photographer Robert Cornelius gives his best "big Philly style" take, inventing the selfie in Philadelphia in 1839. Library of Congress

Many Americans have probably just become familiar with the term "selfie" in the past year or two, thanks to the rise of services like Instagram as ideal tools for feeding our vanity and narcissism. Indeed, the word has taken on such cultural velocity in recent months that the Oxford English Dictionaries saw fit to declare the often cringe-inducing pair of syllables its "word of the year."

It's believed that the first use of the word can be traced back to an Australian online forum post in 2002, but the art of taking one's own self-portrait is nearly as old as photography itself.

When the Oxford folks bestowed their word of the year honors, the Public Domain Review dug up the world's first selfie from the Library of Congress archives.

It's a portrait taken by chemist and photography pioneer Robert Cornelius in 1839. Perhaps most remarkable, the daguerreotype captures the image of a young gentlemen looking a lot more dapper and handsome than the photographers in many contemporary selfies. A lot of us could learn something from the original innovator here.

Because Cornelius didn't have the benefit of a front-facing 5-megapixel camera on his Lumia (or the invention of pixels, for that matter), he took the picture by setting up his significantly bulkier camera in back of the family store in Philadelphia, taking off the lens cap and running into frame for a minute to pose, then running back to replace the lens cap. (No, there was not an app for that at the time.)

The original daguerreotype is housed at the Library of Congress. On the paper backing, you can still see where Cornelius wrote the words "The first light picture ever taken. 1839." Too bad Cornelius didn't have a Kinect on hand at the time or he could have 3D-printed himself too.

Selfies like you've never seen them (pictures)

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