Prang was born in Breslau in Prussian Silesia. His father Jonas Louis Prang was a textile manufacturer and of French Huguenot origin; his mother, Rosina Silverman, was German. Because of health problems as a boy, Prang was unable to receive much standard schooling and became an apprentice to his father, learning engraving and calico dyeing and printing. In the early 1840s, Prang travelled around Bohemia working in printing and textiles. However, after some travel in Europe, he became involved in revolutionary activities in 1848. Pursued by the Prussian government, he went to Switzerland and in 1850 emigrated to the United States and Boston, Massachusetts.
Prang's early activities in the US publishing architectural books and making leather goods were not very successful, and he began to make wood engravings for illustrations in books. In 1851 he worked for Frank Leslie, art director for Gleason's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, and later with John Andrew. In 1851, he married Rosa Gerber, a Swiss woman he had met in Paris in 1846.
Lithography and career
In 1856, Prang and a partner created a firm, Prang and Mayer, to produce lithographs. The company specialized in prints of buildings and towns in Massachusetts. In 1860, he bought the share of his partner, creating L. Prang and Company and began work in colored printing of advertising and other forms of business materials. The firm became quite successful, and became known for war maps, printed during the American Civil War and distributed by newspapers.
In 1864, Prang went to Europe to learn about cutting-edge German lithography. Returning the next year, Prang began to create high quality reproductions of major art works. Prang also began creating series of popular album cards, advertised to be collected into scrapbooks, showing natural scenes and patriotic symbols. At Christmas 1873, Prang began creating greeting cards for the popular market in England and began selling the Christmas card in America in 1874. Therefore, he is sometimes called the "father of the American Christmas card." Prang is also known for his efforts to improve art education in the US, publishing instructional books and creating a foundation to train art teachers.
In June 1886 Prang published a series of prints under the title Prang's War Pictures: Aquarelle Facsimile Prints. These became popular and helped inspire a genre of such prints, particularly the series issued by Kurz and Allison. However, Prang aimed at a more modern and individual treatment, as opposed to the panoramic style of Kurz and Allison, and before them, Currier and Ives.
In 1897 L. Prang and Company merged with another firm, creating the Taber-Prang Company and moved to Springfield, Massachusetts (filed for bankruptcy in about 1938). Prang died in Los Angeles on vacation in 1909. He is buried in Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.