Frank Leslie pioneered pictorial
news journalism in the United States. Born in England in 1821 as Henry
Carter, he went to work as an engraver for the Illustrated London
News during its founding year of 1842. After spending six years there, he immigrated in 1848 to the
United States, where he worked closely with P. T. Barnum for several
After being involved in other
illustrated newspaper ventures in the early 1850’s, Leslie (who
legally adopted his pen name) started Frank Leslie's Illustrated
Weekly on December 15, 1855.
He aimed his journal primarily at average Americans, and
emphasized images over text. To
that end, he hired numerous talented artists and was the first
publisher to have success with the extensive use of the
divided-woodblock method of engraving.
In 1856, Leslie gave 15-year-old Thomas Nast, who later became
a famous cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly, his first
professional assignment. As
a former engraver, Leslie personally supervised the preparation of his
journal’s illustrations from sketch to woodblock.
When the Civil War began,
Leslie hired up to 12 pictorial journalists, including William Waud,
Henri Lovie, Arthur Lumley, and Edwin Forbes, who sketched and
reported as they traveled with the Union troops.
However, the publisher’s skimpy and erratic pay practices
resulted in significant turnover, so that only Forbes stayed with the
journal for the course of the war.
In 1862, Lumley left Leslie’s for the New York
Illustrated News and Lovie retired after making huge profits
selling Southern cotton to the North, while the next year Waud joined
his brother, Alfred, at Harper’s Weekly.
Initially, Leslie’s circulation reached 150,000, but
by the end of the war Harper’s Weekly, its main rival, had a
larger circulation and was more influential in shaping public opinion.
Leslie died in 1878, leaving the debt-ridden newspaper to his second
wife, Mirriam. At her
dying husband’s request, she had legally changed her name to
“Frank Leslie” and was thus able to fend off an ownership
challenge from Leslie’s sons by his first marriage.
In 1881, the assassination of President James A. Garfield
resulted in sold-out issues of Frank Leslie’s Weekly, thereby
saving the journal from bankruptcy.
In 1902, Mrs. Frank Leslie sold the publishing business and
gave up her husband’s name. Leslie’s continued publication until 1922 when it
was subsumed into Judge.