The First Photo of a Person

This image came from Shorpy, a wonderful website which collects very old photos. The site is a bit addictive. This photo is part of the “Handsome Rakes” collection at

Written on the back of this photo is “The first light-picture ever taken, 1839.”

This is believed to be one of the first photographs made in America and is the oldest known photograph of a person. It is a portrait of a man named Robert Cornelius, taken in the yard of the Cornelius family’s lamp-making business in Philadelphia.

Let’s look back to 1839. My native Texas was a nation at the time, the Battle of the Alamo but three years in the past. Revolutionary War veterans were still around, probably grumbling that the young generation “lacks gumption.” The span to that era seems so long from our current age, and yet it was a blink in time. Civilization took thousands of years to get organized enough to make a camera. Then less than 200 years later, we find ourselves here. This photograph feels like an inflection point in history. Technology moved relatively slowly until about this time, but since then, everything has happened so quickly.

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