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That Old Almanac

Recently, I picked up a copy of the "oldest continuously published periodical in North America." We buy one every year. Although I'm not a farmer, and, regardless of what the calendar says, I don't really consider myself to be all that old, I've always enjoyed perusing the pages of The Old Farmer's Almanac.

Founded by Robert Bailey Thomas, the publication's first issue was published in 1792 with predictions for 1793. Thomas remained its editor and publisher, issuing editions every September for the next 50 years, until he died on May 19, 1846.

But Thomas's almanac was neither original nor new. Many different almanacs were being published during that period of history and had been for many years before that. But Thomas's almanac simply was the most popular.

Thomas's almanac was modeled and patterned after and following in the footsteps of the famous Poor Richard's Almanack, the first edition of which was published by Benjamin Franklin on December 28, 1732, a full 60 years before Thomas's version. Franklin continued to publish Poor Richard's Almanack for the next 25 years, using the pseudonym Richard Saunders.

Franklin's almanac offered seasonal weather forecasts, household hints, puzzles, and even serialized stories that ensured that readers would purchase the following years' editions so they could find out what happened next in the stories. (That seems to me to be a long time to wait to find out what happened!)

Poor Richard's Almanack quickly became renowned for its witty wordplay, phraseology, and proverbs, many of which were original with Franklin. Following are a few examples of those sayings, some of which you may have heard before:

  • "Eat to live, and not live to eat."

  • "Take this remark from Richard, poor and lame, Whate'er's begun in anger, ends in shame."

  • "He that waits upon fortune is never sure of a dinner."

  • "Keep thy shop and thy shop will keep thee."

  • "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise." (I've been practicing the first part of that proverb for a number of years now, but I have yet to see the fulfillment of the latter part!)

(For a lot more of these sayings, visit

But the modern imitation of Poor Richard's Almanack is called The Old Farmer's Almanac, and it is sought out more for its weather predictions for the various regions of the country than for its wise sayings. One of the main reasons I buy it is to see how accurate those predictions are. My recurring question concerns how the editors can predict the weather conditions 18 months or more in advance when our local TV weather forecasters have trouble being accurate even four to seven days ahead.

The almanac staffers allegedly make their predictions based on the 30-year statistical averages from data provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which are updated every 10 years. The almanac's prophets feed these data into a closely guarded formula that is kept under lock and key and seen by only those secretive weather wizards in Dublin, New Hampshire, where the almanac is published. (Unfortunately, the wizards are not so subtle in their promotion of the climate change agenda.)

The personnel of The Old Farmer's Almanac claim an accuracy rate of 80 percent for their weather predictions. Independent studies, however, suggest that it might be closer to 50 percent. As I've followed the actual weather for my region and compared it with the almanac, I've seen the almanac both hit and miss on their prognostications. I don't plan my schedule or alter my plans based on their guesses, but it's fun to compare predictions with realities.

The modern almanac gives more information than weather predictions. It also gives planting charts, telling gardeners the best times to plant specific crops for those who are inclined to "follow the signs." (That reminds me of the calendars that many people in my childhood had hanging on their kitchen walls.) The modern almanac also includes folklore and discusses the trends for the year.

An intriguing tidbit about the almanac is the little hole that is always punched in the upper left corner of the volume. Its stated purpose is to make it easier for retailers to display the book, but I've seldom seen the hole used in that way.

The almanac makes for interesting and entertaining reading, but I'm not changing any plans based on their weather prophecies. I'd rather trust the accuracy of my arthritis-based, self-generated predictors. They aren't long range for sure, but they're accurate and trustworthy in the short term. And I think I'll continue to get my words of wisdom elsewhere, too. The Bible seems like a good starting place.

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