The Rise of The Selfie

With festival season almost upon us, and the demand for selfie sticks going through the roof, we thought we’d share with you a potted history of the humble selfie, from the very first photographic self-portrait, right up to the modern world and the selfie stick…

Mobile phones have put lots of technology in the hands of their users, and perhaps the biggest change they’ve brought about (other than making calls pretty much anywhere) is the fact that everyone now has a camera with them 24/7.

That has led to many more impromptu photos being taken, and if often seems like most of them are selfies. But what is the history of the selfie? Did selfies exist before the mobile phone, and if so, how did people take them?

As a matter of fact, the selfie is somewhat older than you might be expecting; the first selfie was in fact taken nearly two hundred years ago, in 1839, by Robert Cornelius. Of course, it took a mite longer to take than a selfie would nowadays; the process involved Cornelius taking the lens cap off, legging it into shot and staying therefore for a minute or two, and then putting the lens cap back on.


Selfies got a bit easier to take in 1900, with the launch of the Kodak Brownie, the portable camera that popularised the “snapshot”. With that, the art of the selfie (we could call it “photographic self-portraiture”, but let’s be honest, “selfie” is only six letters long) jumped to the next level. It’s around this time that we can see an example of both a mirror selfie and a celebrity selfie, one taken by Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia.

Yes, the daughter of Tsar Nicholas II. That Anastasia.


People carried on taking selfies after that (and possibly the coolest is Buzz Aldrin’s selfie, taken in 1966, IN SPACE), but when was the name “selfie” first written down? It turns out that milestone happened in 2002, in a post by Dr Karl Self-Serve Science Forum user Nathan Hope.


It’s perhaps not surprising to find out that it was originally coined by an Aussie, as Australians are noted (as Dr Karl himself said) for shortening words and sticking a superfluous vowel or two on the end.

After that, there was only one thing needed, to allow selfies to take over the world: a device was needed that could take photos at any time (so it needed to be with the user all the time), and that could upload them to the internet. Oh, and they needed a front-facing camera, to make it easier to see what you’re doing while taking a selfie.

That line was crossed in 2003, with the likes of the Sony Ericsson Z1010.

And so, the selfie took over the world, but even now, when selfies are already everywhere, there are still innovations to be made, and the big one in recent times is the selfie stick. With group selfies being a thing, the selfie stick is the perfect way to move the camera back, and get all your friends in shot!


And there we have it; the history of the selfie has been a more long-running tale than you might have thought (and we can’t help but wonder what would have happened if you could go back and show Robert Cornelius a smartphone taking a selfie; he might accuse you of being a witch). Here’s to another two hundred years of selfies!

Find a store and buy a selfie stick, now just £7.50!


About the author


Leave a Comment