Leslie, Frank (Henry Carter) (1821-1880)

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Frank Leslie (Henry Carter) (1821-1880)



Wood Engraver. The publisher of illustrated journalism known as Frank Leslie was born Henry Carter in Ipswich, Suffolk, England, in 1821, the son of a successful glove manufacturer. In school, the boy showed himself to be a talented artist, and he learned to put his skill to use as an engraver by the time he was a teenager. In 1842, when he was twenty-one, he took charge of the engraving department of the Illustrated London News, a successful paper that pioneered the use of illustrations in a newspaper. Engravings, which were typically done in steel at the time, had been restricted to journals because the illustrations took so long to render. Carter worked effectively in wood, a faster medium, so he was able to meet the deadlines demanded by newspapers.

Efficiency. At the time, there were not more than twenty wood engravers in the United States, where Carter sought his fortune in 1848. Within a year he was working professionally under the nameFrank Leslie. When the popular singer Jenny Lind came to America in 1850 for a tour promoted by P. T. Barnum, Leslie engraved the programs and formed a friendship with the boss. Two years later Barnum was a partner in a venture to introduce an American version of the Illustrated London News, using a technique devised by Leslie to produce woodcuts quickly. He divided large woodcuts into pieces and parceled out the work to different engravers; their work was then integrated by a master engraver. In this way Leslie could produce in a day or two work that would take five times as long under the old system.

American Success. Within five years the paper was called Frank Leslies Illustrated Newspaper, and it was a huge success. The weekly paper was sixteen pages and sold for either ten cents a copy or four dollars per year. News stories were illustrated within a couple of weeks of their occurrence, normally, and in addition to news there were features on music, the stage, fine arts, sports, and literature, including serial fiction. No other publisher could match Leslies speed of production, and so he captured a market of both barely literate readers, who appreciated having the news presented in pictures, and more sophisticated subscribers, who appreciated his coverage of the arts and sports. By the end of 1858 circulation was about 140,000 and Leslie was a major periodical publisher. He energetically pursued the illustrated market. In 1853 he had started Frank Leslies Ladys Gazette of Fashion and Fancy Needlework; in 1855 he started Frank Leslies New York Journal of Romance; and over the next two decades he launched new publications, usually bearing his name, at the rate of well more than one a year.

Competition. By the time of the Civil War, Leslie had a serious competitor in the field of magazine illustration Harpers. Between them, Leslies Illustrated News (which then cost six cents a copy) and Harpers brought readers the most vivid pictorial reports of war ever published. Leslie employed as many as twelve correspondents and eighty artists, and he published approximately three thousand war pictures. He offered to publish war drawings by both Union and Confederate soldiers. But Harpers did a better job and by the wars end had become the most popular illustrated weekly.

Marriage. By 1865 Leslies empire had grown large enough that he could not give much attention to a single publication. The Leslie Publishing House employed seventy engravers and published a half a million copies a week of its various publications. Leslie himself took a salary of $60,000 a year (at a time when skilled workers made about three dollars a day), and he had a distracting love interest, the wife of a business associate, whom he married in 1874. After his marriage, Leslie spent lavishly, despite the effects of the economic depression, and in 1879 his company went into a partial receivership. He died on 10 January 1880, having developed a quick-growing tumor in his throat. Mrs. Frank Leslie, his widow, took over control of Leslie Publications, and it prospered under her direction.


George Everett, Frank Leslie, in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 43: American Newspaper Journalists, 16901872 (Detroit: Bruccoli Clark Layman/Gale, 1985), pp. 290303.