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The John DeBella Show

Weekdays 5:30am–9:00am

On a sunny day in October of 1839, the 30 year old son of a Dutch immigrant made history in Philadelphia- and he didn’t even have to revolt against the British Empire! He did, however, have to get captured. By himself.

Robert Cornelius is that man, whose father owned a profitable lamp shop in downtown Philadelphia, providing the backdrop for understanding how to exploit the power of light. And Cornelius did just that, in the shop’s backyard. He assembled a sealed tin box with a pinhole, covered by a tiny circular lens, which was wrenched out of a pair of opera glasses. Sunlight filtered into the box and etched his image onto a silver-plated piece of copper inside the box, which acted as a delicate canvas, treated with iodine, bromine and other toxic fumes. For all of this trouble, Robert Cornelius created the world’s first selfie!

On the back of the photo, Robert wrote, “The first light Picture ever taken. 1839.” By the next year, he opened Philadelphia’s first portrait studio—the second one in all of America. Eventually, he died old and wealthy in 1893. Now 120 years later, after “selfie” has been declared the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year, it is worth turning our cameras away from our faces and shining the light on the Philadelphian who first took one. We also salute you, sir, for not making a duck face! #History

-Dave Gibson