The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the oldest continuously published periodical in America, was founded in 1792. It was the creation of Robert B. Thomas, its first editor, and was designed to provide astronomical and weather information to its rural readers. Though there were, at the time, other almanacs in print, the Almanac soon became the most widely read of them all. To date, it has never missed a year of publication.
Most almanacs of the day supplied just that – astronomy and weather observations. Thomas went a few steps further. He developed a formula, which remains secret to this day, of predicting weather with claimed accuracy of 80 per cent. Also, he incorporated features, stories, and useful farming information in the Almanac, intending it to be not only a handy reference guide for farmers, but also a useful book for all.
Upon Thomas’ death in 1846, the Almanac passed through a series of editors in the 19th century. Each one remained true to Thomas’ ideals for the almanac and maintained its traditional format. Late in the century, the Almanac’s emphasis began a shift to include more farming information – agricultural techniques, planting guides, and helpful advice to its readers.
In 1900, new editor Horace Ware redesigned the Almanac’s content, moving it toward a more general emphasis. The Almanac became, under his leadership, an all-purpose reference book, and circulation figures rose accordingly. It wasn’t until Roger Scaife took over in 1936 that problems occurred. Scaife tinkered with the Almanac’s format, and even dropped the famous weather forecasts one year in the late 1930s. The resulting public outcry demanded their reinstatement.
The Almanac’s best-known editor, Robb Sagendorph, purchased it in 1939. He returned the Almanac to its traditional format and expanded the general features. Sagendorph drew on the Almanac’s traditions and reinstated many of Robert B. Thomas’ original ideas.
Upon Sagendorph’s death in 1970, the editorship of the Almanac passed to his nephew Judson Hale. Hale retired in 2001 and the Almanac is now under the editorship of its first female editor, Janice Stillman. Hale and Stillman have continued the traditions of their predecessors, and expanded the Almanac’s format to include regional editions, calendars, and guidebooks.
The Old Farmer's Almanac, various editions