Among my early memories as a boy was watching my parents and grandparents consult The Old Farmer’s Almanac before commencing any serious work. Whether planting crops, working livestock, planning farm work, going fishing or even going to the doctor, out came the almanac for study. Why was this effort important? Because its predictions and advice were almost always right and if you did not adhere, you probably paid the price.
Another publication that was consulted without fail was the feed store calendar that hung on the wall by the crank telephone. This displayed the signs of the moon, any notations about things in the past (such as the date the milk cow was bred), financial obligations to be paid and bills already paid.
Robert B. Thomas designed the first edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac in 1792 for publication in the early spring of 1793 during the first term of George Washington’s presidency. This is the longest publishing tenure in American history. As a cost-saving measure, up to the 1840s, the almanac had no cover, yet ranked with the Bible as the nation’s best-selling publications.
The difference between a calendar and an almanac is this: A calendar records time and an almanac records and predicts astronomical events, tides, weather and other phenomena with respect to time. Calendars appeared more than 5,000 years ago. Almanacs appeared later, in the form of wooden blocks inscribed with the seasons and astronomical phenomena. A calendar may exist without almanac information but an almanac cannot exist without the dates and times of a calendar.
As a reminder of the respect awarded to the originator, Robert B. Thomas, none of the 12 editors since that time have added their names to the book; it is still published under his name. The first printing sold 3,000 copies at about 9 cents each. The second year, 9,000 copies were sold. Sales have grown each year since.
The page most studied by my forebears showed a naked man standing amid a circle of 12 signs of the zodiac. Each anatomical part was assigned an icon with the man’s stomach drawn open and intestines shown. This illustration literally fascinated both young boys and girls but would be classified as X-rated today. If you had a decision to make about what day to castrate or dehorn your livestock, the signs indicated which days were the safest. Believe me, I never knew it to fail. Even when plowing fields, the almanac was a good source. Plowing done on certain days killed more weeds than others.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt was an ardent admirer of The Old Farmer’s Almanac. “The almanac is one of those institutions which is perennially young in the appeal which it makes,” he said. “From long custom we depend on it. It is an invaluable friend.”
Eventually the almanac expanded to include bits of wisdom, advice to all and even strange stories. A book entitled The Best of The Old Farmer’s Almanac: The First 100 Years by Judson Hale is a must–read for those who remember its use. FC
Delbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and supervisor of the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002; (806) 779-3164; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.