Is This One of America’s First Selfies?

A historian has revealed how he uncovered a “selfie” photograph that was taken in the U.S. in the 1850s.

According to a report by WZZM 13 on Your Side News, GF Korreck, a historian and member of the Grand Rapids Historical Commission, discovered a detail that reveals how a 19th-century photograph is actually a “selfie.”

early selfie 1850s usa
The “selfie” photograph taken by James Minton Keeney

The photograph, which was probably taken in Grand Rapids, Michigan between 1856 to 1857, shows a young man named James Minton Keeney.

“I’ve seen the picture of this guy, and it’s just the way he’s looking at people, looking right at you in this picture,” Korreck tells WZZM 13 on Your Side News.

“Who is this person? I had no idea how old he was or what happened to him.”

A Secret Shutter Wrapped Around The Sitter’s Fingers

In the portrait, Keeney wears a shirt and tie with a checkered vest and a suit jacket with a velvet collar. The photo shows Keeney assuming a casual pose with his legs crossed and his left arm resting on the back of a wooden chair that may have been a woven cane seat.

In the image, Keeney places his left hand close to his face. And if a viewer looks closely at his left hand in the photograph, Keeney can be seen holding a cord used to click a shutter wrapped around his little finger.

When Korreck noticed this detail, he became “fascinated” by the image. Korreck says he went “down a rabbit hole” and started researching the photograph and the sitter through archives, files, and old newspapers.

According to WZZM 13 on Your Side News, the historian found that Keeney probably arrived in Grand Rapids in his early 20s.

While Keeney only stayed in the city for a couple of years, he did meet a prominent photographer there who helped him take this shot. The image is one of the earliest “selfies” taken in the U.S.

As for why Keeney took the selfie, Korreck tells the news outlet that he can only speculate.

“He was a young man, so maybe he was just having some fun,” Korreck says.

Pioneering American photographer Robert Cornelius is generally credited with taking the world’s first selfie with his daguerreotype self-portrait in 1839.


Image credits: All photos via Grand Rapids Public Library.