The Old Farmer’s Almanac, that periodical which has managed to endure over two centuries of political upheaval, several wars, and dramatic cultural and technological evolutions, was all done, for the most part, by remaining relatively unchanged at the steady center of America’s storm.
The oldest running publication in North America was first released in 1792, when George Washington was president. Practical and sound in its advice, it was of great help to a young industrious country. Like the hundreds of other almanacs in print at the time, it offered the familiar tide tables, sun and moon phases, eclipse dates, but it was its strangely accurate weather predictions that made it a huge success over its competitors. Utilizing statistical analysis, solar activity and weather patterns, Almanac founder Robert B. Thomas proved himself to be a reliable friend to the American farmer.
Not only was Thomas a savvy weatherman, he was extremely adept at marketing to boot. The Almanac’s motto “Useful, but with a Pleasing Degree of Humor” seemed to describe exactly what his readers were looking for. Almanac favorites such as how to cook a 1000 lb. ostrich and the best time to castrate a bull were balanced by a goofy sense of humor and became an iconic part of U.S. culture, Thomas even had the sense to punch a hole in the corner of the publication, making it familiar in American outhouses, where it could be read and used as toilet paper. At the time of his death, at the ripe age of 80 in 1847, Thomas’ almanac was the best selling magazine in the country.
It was also a handy tool in a court of law. In 1858, when a young attorney named Abraham Lincoln was asked to defend a man tried for murder, he refuted the prosecutor’s case using the Almanac. The accuser, claimed to have seen the defendant commit the crime in the bright light of a full moon. Lincoln proved his testimony to be weak, citing a quarter moon that would have made accurate identification impossible, and cast doubt upon the case. The press celebrated the job of the defense and the story became legend.
In 1942,The Old Farmer’s Almanac came to public attention once again when a German spy was arrested with a copy in his coat pocket. The FBI became convinced that the enemy was using the Almanac to predict American weather patterns and almost stopped the publication from printing. Luckily the publishers convinced the government that its “weather indications” rather than prediction would not violate the “Code of Wartime Practices for the American Press” and the Almanac was saved. The formula remains hidden to this day under lock and key at the Almanac headquarters in New Hampshire.
Released just once a year, the Almanac has remained something to not only read, but also rely upon. It even boasts the very same cover first unveiled in 1855 – a detailed “four seasons” drawing by the artist Hammatt Billings. There is something to be said for consistency.
Now available both in its classic print addition as well as contemporary online version, the Almanac continues to deliver. With its recipes, natural cleaning methods, fishing guide, repair tips, tips on watching meteor showers and even astrological advice, The Old Farmers Almanac has never gone out of fashion. It’s proof that practical wisdom, combined with “pleasing humor” might just be the perfect recipe for a long and lasting life.