Robert L. Leslie


1969 AIGA Medal

1885, New York, New York


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 from RIT.

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, 1987.