Last updated: July 6, 2018
Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper was an American illustrated literary and news magazine founded in 1855 and published until 1922. It gave a vivid picture of typical American life during the decades of its publication. The Gateway Arch National Park has in its collections many samples of Leslie’s magazine, which feature illustrations from wood engravings. One engraving depicts a Fourth of July celebration in St. Louis in 1874 showing a parade rounding the corner of Market and Fifth streets.
Frank Leslie was the pen name of Henry Carter, the son of a well-to-do English glove maker. Carter had taken up the art of wood engraving, against his father’s wishes, and immigrated to New York City to start his own business in 1848. One of his early clients was P.T. Barnum who commissioned Leslie to produce a posh illustrated concert program for singer Jenny Lind in 1848. Wood engraving is a print making and letter press printing technique in which an artist works an image into a block of wood and uses relief printing when ink is applied to the face of the block and printed. Leslie was hired by Barnum in 1853 as chief engraver for a short-lived publication of Barnum’s entitled The Illustrated News. After Barnum’s failed publication, Leslie started publishing on his own, launching two new periodicals in 1854, Frank Leslie’s Ladies’ Gazette of Fashion and Frank Leslie’s Journal of Romance. Both of these publications proved to be very lucrative, allowing him to publish a third publication titled Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.
The drama of the American Civil War in 1861 insured the success of Leslie’s newspaper as
tens of thousands of readers turned to the paper for their sometimes lurid illustrations of the bloody conflict. The only other paper carrying Civil War illustrations was Harper’s Weekly. No daily newspaper in America consistently carried illustrations until the launch of the New York Daily Graphic in 1873. By that time Leslie’s Newspaper was a massive and prosperous business, employing more than 300 people, including 70 illustrators, as part of a publishing empire which by then spanned seven publications. By 1897, circulation had grown to about 65,000 copies.
The format of these weekly papers was large in size; about twelve inches by sixteen inches and each consisted of sixteen pages. Each magazine issue contained elements of war, politics, art, science, travel, exploration, literature and the fine arts. All issues were enhanced by several dozen illustrations. After Leslie’s death in 1880, the publication was continued by his widow, the women’s suffrage campaigner Miriam Florence Leslie. The publication retained the Leslie name in various forms and with other owners, until it was discontinued in 1922.