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Born December 18, 1885, in New York City's Lower East Side,
Robert Lincoln Leslie entered the world of printing at an early
age. He was 14 when he began working for a Russian intellectual and
job printer. It was during this time that he became fluent in
Russian. In 1900 he began attending the City College of New York
and working at De Vinne Press to meet expenses. He graduated in
1904 and was awarded the Chemistry Prize Scholarship to Johns
Hopkins University. Before attending Johns Hopkins he decided to
become a school teacher and then a social worker. In 1906 he
decided to attend Johns Hopkins and accepted the scholarship. To
help meet his school expenses and support his mother he worked as a
proofreader at the Baltimore Sun.
In 1912 he received his MD and immediately went into the United
States Public Health Service. As a doctor for the Public Health
Service, he redesigned all the government publications for the
Surgeon Generals Office and volunteered for service at Ellis
Island. During WWI, he joined the Chemical Warfare Service.
Assigned to a lab in Maryland, he lost his left eye in a chemical
accident that killed three of his colleagues.
In 1918, he married Dr. Sarah Greenberg, a gynecologist and
obstetrician. Sarah was an early advocate of birth control and
worked tirelessly to improve conditions among her poor clients in
the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. She delivered over 6,000
babies during the course of her 60 year career.
After Sarah suggested one doctor in the family was enough, Leslie moved back to New York and in 1920 became the first
industrial doctor in the city. He was hired by McGraw Hill Company
and eventually left medicine permanently when he decided that
printing was in his blood. It was here at McGraw Hill that he first
met Sol Cantor, who worked for the Carey Printing Company, located
in the same building. The two men formed a partnership and created
the Enmore Linotype Company. A few years later the business was
bought out by Louis Statenstein and Leslie was under contract with
him for four years. In 1927, he and Cantor partnered again and
formed The Composing Room, Inc. In
the early thirties, Leslie served as the American editor of
Gebrauchsgraphik, the German art and design periodical. When the
magazine folded he decided to create his own version - PM magazine.
With a co-editor, Percy Seitlin, the magazine became a collaborative
effort in that the typesetting was done at The Composing Room,
paper was donated and the presswork was done at a reduced rate.
Leslie expanded the opportunities of PM in 1936 and created the
A-D Gallery. This
provided another opportunity for artists to be seen by the inner
circles of the advertising and printing world. The name PM was sold
in 1940 and the magazine continued under the name A-D magazine. In
1942 publication was stopped as the United States entered World War
II. During the course of its run, the magazine was to feature
hundreds of artists and helped to launch and expand the careers of
many, including several European emigres. During the war, Leslie was with the Office of Information Service. In 1949 he
travelled to Israel for the first of many annual trips. Throughout
the forties and early fifties he was active in the business and as
director of The A-D Gallery. In 1958 the gallery was reactivated as
Gallery 303 and in 1965 became host to the lecture series “Heritage of the
Graphic Arts.” The gallery presented over 200 lectures in that
series and in 1972 several were collected into a volume called
Heritage of the Graphic Arts.
In 1965 Sol Cantor died, thus ending a 40 year partnership. In
1969 Leslie retired as president of The Composing Room and was
awarded the AIGA medal. In 1971 he worked to help set up Uncle
Bob's Paper Mill in Israel and in 1973 he received the Goudy award
Leslie's entire career is marked by his drive to help,
educate and mentor those around him. The Leslies had no children
of their own but Leslie, was known to hundreds as Uncle Bob, an
endearment he encouraged. His success as a people person comes from
his motto “to serve.” In 1986, in an interview in American Way
magazine he summed up his philosophy of life.
Robert L. Leslie died on April 1,
The distinguished AIGA Medal is awarded to individuals in recognition of their exceptional achievements in the field of design.
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