The Book Your Ancestors Read: The Old Farmers Almanac

It’s official: the 2020 edition of The Old Farmers Almanac is now out in the stores. If your ancestors have been in the United States for a few generations, there’s an excellent chance that your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and even earlier generations read this same book. After all, it has been published every year since 1793, making it the oldest continuously published periodical in North America.

In fact, it wasn’t only our ancestors that read The Old Farmers Almanac. I well remember reading it cover-to-cover every year when I was growing up on a small farm in rural Maine! I am sure many others will do the same with the new 2020 edition.

Robert B. Thomas started publishing The Farmers Almanac in 1793. George Washington was president at the time. The Almanac sold for six pence (about nine cents). The Farmers Almanac quickly became the most popular publication of its kind. Nearly forty years later, in 1832, Thomas added the word “old” to the title. He apparently had a change of heart in 1836 when he removed the word “old” from the title. The word was re-inserted a year later, after Thomas’ death.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac has published useful information for people in all walks of life: tide tables for those who live near the ocean; sunrise tables and planting charts for those who live on the farm; recipes for those who live in the kitchen; and forecasts for those who don’t like the question of weather left up in the air.

In fact, The Old Farmers Almanac claims to be 80% accurate in its weather forecasts, most of which are written six to eighteen months before the date in question. The forecasts are based upon Robert B. Thomas’s secret formula that reportedly used a complex series of natural cycles. Even today, his formula is kept safely tucked away in a black tin box at the Almanac offices in Dublin, New Hampshire. Eighty per cent accuracy sounds impressive until you also learn that random guesses about the weather tend to be about 76% accurate!

The Almanac has many tables that are 100% accurate and useful to farmers, mariners, and many others: times of sunrise, sunset, high tide, and low tide, as well as the phases of the moon and other astronomical information. In fact, during World War Two, the information was a bit too accurate. It seems that a Nazi saboteur caught on Long Island with a copy of The Old Farmers Almanac in his jacket pocket. The assumption is that the saboteur was interested in the tide tables as some ship or submarine perhaps was going to retrieve him at high tide on an appointed date. However, military intelligence suspected the enemy was using the Almanac’s famously detailed weather predictions in its operations. The Almanac had to stick to very general weather material until the end of the war.

Robert B. Thomas died in 1846 at the age of 80, supposedly while reading page proofs for the 1847 edition. His publication lives on, however. The Old Farmers Almanac has had only 13 editors in its 227 years of continuous publication.

Today, The Old Farmers Almanac has gone high tech. Yes, it has a web page and even web cams that show the local weather outside the Almanac’s offices in Dublin, New Hampshire. I wonder what Mr. Thomas would have thought of that?

The words of the Almanac’s founder, Robert B. Thomas, still guide today’s staff:

“Our main endeavor is to be useful, but with a pleasant degree of humor.”

You can find The Old Farmers Almanac at most grocery, hardware, and book stores. Pick up a copy and see what grandpa used to read.

A somewhat different, but still very interesting, electronic version may be found at http://www.almanac.com.

I also find it interesting that the parent company of Yankee Publishing, the company that publishes The Old Farmer’s Almanac and several other magazines, recently purchased Family Tree Magazine from F+W Media. Yes, the very popular U.S. genealogy publication, Family Tree Magazine, is now published by the same company that publishes The Old Farmer’s Almanac. See https://blog.eogn.com/2019/07/22/yankee-publishing-acquires-family-tree-magazine/ for the details.

6 Comments

According to the cover shown in this article, the Almanac was founded in 1792. Did it not begin publishing until 1793?

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    I assume the company was founded in one year but was not ready to immediately publish it’s first Almanac. Even today, writing and publishing one edition is a 12-month task. It doesn’t surprise me that writing and publishing the very first edition required several months, maybe a year, to accomplish. And think about printing it on those old-fashioned printing presses!

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Informative and entertaining.
The 1800’s R.B. Thomas motto,
“Our main endeavor is to be useful, but with a pleasant degree of humor.”
could apply to life.

Liked by 1 person

My family read the almanac religiously. I remember receiving it as a Christmas present every year. It was always special to have your very own copy. My family is engaged in farming and lobstering in Maine. I still purchase it for myself and other family members each Christmas.

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In the late 70’s the company that I was working for had their name was printed on the back page indicating that it was given to our customer as a courtesy. Our customer base was all of New England and parts of New York state, So we had to several thousand printed up and distributed. Happy New Years!

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Lovely to see this in a blog post! My family always gift ourselves an English almanac at a Christmas Eve book giving – but this year we have bought the one in your post too, to compare the differences between continents 🙂

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