Becker was born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. By 1859, he had moved to New York where he went to work as an errand boy for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. Although Becker had no formal training in art, Frank Leslie and his staff encouraged his natural talent, and by 1863, Leslie dispatched Becker to accompany the Union Army to send back drawings of what he observed. In addition to major events including the battles of Gettysburg and Petersburg and President Lincoln’s address at the dedication of the military cemetery at Gettysburg, Becker recorded scenes of daily life in army camps throughout the eastern theater of war as well as civilian events. In all, approximately 88 of his wartime drawings were published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper between 1863 and 1865.
After the war, he sailed to Ireland to record the connection of the eastern end of the Trans-Atlantic Cable in 1865. In 1869, he traveled across the West recording the landscape of the Great Plains and the expansion of the railroads. In 81 hours, he journeyed from Omaha to San Francisco on the first cross-Rockies Pullman train, and in San Francisco, he recorded scenes of Chinese immigrant life. Forty of the resulting drawings constituted the series Across the Continent published in Leslie’s between December 1869 and mid-1870.
Becker’s illustrations also appeared in Beyond the Mississippi (Hartford, 1869), which contained drawings from photographs and earlier published prints of scenes from the Mississippi to the Pacific coast by many of the Civil War artists including Edwin Forbes, Alfred Waud, William Waud, Frank Schell, and Thomas Nast. In 1871 Becker’s drawings of Chicago in the wake of the Great Fire raised the circulation of Leslie’s to 470,000, the highest for a single issue of the newspaper. In 1875, he became Manager of Leslie’s art department, a post he held until his retirement in 1900.
Becker died in Brooklyn, New York. His original drawings and those of many of his colleagues at Frank Leslie’s constitute the Becker collection.
Information provided by Jacob Frank.