In October or November 1839, one Robert Cornelius, then 30 years old, set up his camera at the back of his father's shop in Philadelphia (below), removed the lens cap, ran into the frame and sat stock still for five minutes before running back and replacing the lens cap. In so doing, he had created what is believed to be the first photographic self-portrait.
Image: Library of Congress
Cornelius' father was a Dutch immigrant and had been a silversmith before opening a lamp manufacturing company. He sent his son to a private school, where Robert developed an interest in chemistry. After leaving school, Robert worked for his father specializing in silver plating and metal polishing. He made a silver daguerrotype plate for the photographer Joseph Saxton; this sparked his interest in the very new field of photography.
Following the self-portrait, Cornelius became a photographer specializing in portraits, but he only operated for about two years before returning to his father's lamp business. He managed it for 20 years and held many patents for improved lamp designs. In fact, the business became the largest lighting company in America.
Robert Cornelius retired in 1877 as a wealthy man. He died in 1893, aged 84.