The News Media and the Making of America, 1730-1865

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper




Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, established in 1855,was the first successful pictorial newspaper in the United States. Before immigrating to the United States in 1848, Frank Leslie (born Henry Carter; 1821-80) had worked for six years in the engraving department at the London Illustrated News, which began in 1842 and would become the model for the commercial illustrated press in America. After arriving in the United States, he did stints with Gleason’s Pictorial in Boston and the Illustrated News in New York before founding one monthly women’s magazine and acquiring another. But what he really wanted was a weekly illustrated newspaper, and on December 15, 1855, he published the first issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.

Though Leslie’s would become a great success, its first few years were plagued by the same instability of its other American predecessors. Leslie, however, who found that activism, sensationalism, and tell-alls sold, finally found a stable readership with his paper’s extensive nonpartisan coverage of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry and the ensuing trial and execution. By 1860, Leslie’s had a circulation of 164,000. Right through secession and up to the bombing of Fort Sumter, Leslie’s tried to keep its Southern readership by balancing its coverage of events and printing a variety of opinions. After the bombardment, however, the paper switched to a strong pro-Union stance and found a wider audience in a Northern populace now invested in war.

This issue from May 6, 1865, speaks to both Leslie’s political stance as well as its tendency toward sensationalism. The cover illustration depicts John Wilkes Booth (1838-65) jumping from the balcony after shooting President Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre, and the cover article extols the virtues of General William T. Sherman (1820-91). Other items in the issue include President Andrew Johnson’s (1808-75) views on treason, a series of news tidbits injected with humor called “Epitome of the Week,” news about the wrapping up of the war in North Carolina, and a two-page spread showing Lincoln’s remains as they lay in state at the White House.

Click the image below to browse the full issue.


Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper




May 6, 1865


Frank Leslie


New York, N.Y.


40 cm.


“Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper,” The News Media and the Making of America, 1730-1865, accessed June 15, 2024,