Learn about the 13 editors of The Old Farmer's Almanac—past and present.
May 30, 2017
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Get to know the history of The Old Farmer’s Almanac by getting to know its past (and present) editors—all 13 of them!
The founder and first editor of the Almanac, Robert B. Thomas, died on May 19, 1846, at age 80, while, it is said, proofing the pages of the next year’s edition. Wisely, he had made arrangements for this eventuality with his publisher, Jenks & Palmer.
So it was that John H. Jenks became the Almanac’s second editor. In the 1847 edition, Jenks pledged to “continue the Almanac, the oldest in the country, through the present century at least.” Thomas’s name, Jenks added, “will always be connected with it in future as in past time.” (And so it has been.)
Jenks set about increasing the Almanac’s usefulness, with a tide table, math puzzles, and fresh ideas, such as that railroad tracks and telegraph wires drew off electricity from the clouds “to make thunder and lightning less frequent.”
In 1860, Jenks handed the editorship to Charles Louis Flint, a frequent contributor, Harvard grad, Massachusetts’s first secretary of agriculture, cofounder of MIT, and a trivia buff. Flint increased the number of patent-medicine ads, thereby lifting the Almanac’s bottom line.
Charles Louis Flint
Nine years in, Flint gave up his role (the reason is unknown). Editorial responsibility fell to the publisher, Brewer & Tileston of Dorchester, Massachusetts. John B. Tileston became the Almanac’s fourth editor. His tenure (1870–71) was unremarkable: Feature content consists largely of articles from past editions.
Loomis Joseph Campbell, a schoolteacher and textbook author, took over the editorial duties beginning with the 1872 Almanac. The content in the four editions that he oversaw contained advice on stock breeding, cover crops, plant pests, kitchen gardens, weather, and home remedies … but his editions came up short on humor.
Following publication of the 1876 edition, the Almanac was taken over by the Boston publishing firm William Ware & Co. A son of the owner, Robert Ware, became the sixth editor. In the 1892 edition, he noted the Almanac’s centennial with a feature on Robert B. Thomas.
At the turn of the 20th century, Robert Ware passed editorship to his brother Horace Ware, a lawyer, banker, and Massachusetts legislator. His 1908 edition reports on experimental milking machines and advises taking a cracker, buttered and sprinkled with cayenne pepper, after dinner to induce sleep.
Horace Ware passed away in 1919, and the Almanac was acquired by Frank B. Newton, another Boston lawyer. Newton reached out to advertisers, securing brands such as King Arthur Flour. In several of his 13 editions, Newton cautions against “work-shirkers and trouble-makers whose principal business seems to be the minding of other people’s business.”
The ninth editor was Boston advertising man and World War I combat veteran Carroll Swan. He set a record with the 1933 edition (his first), declaring it “the largest Almanac ever published—96 pages.”
Upon Swan’s passing in 1935 (after completion of that year’s edition), his family licensed the Almanac to Boston publisher Little Brown & Co., which appointed as the 10th editor literary figure Roger Scaife. This arrangement ushered in the only period in the Almanac’s history in which its circulation declined precipitously (to about 88,000—from a high of about 225,000). The nadir of this calamitous trend was the 1938 edition, infamously known for giving temperature averages in lieu of weather forecasts. Scaife reinstated actual weather forecasts in the 1939 and ’40 editions, but it was too late: Little Brown & Co. was looking for a way out. Conveniently, a young man in Dublin, New Hampshire, named Robb Sagendorph, who had recently launched Yankee magazine, wanted to expand. Writing later of his meeting with the Little Brown & Co. people, Sagendorph recalled: “After more than one double martini, I found myself the new owner and new editor of the Almanac.”
The Almanac’s 11th editor, Robb Sagendorph.
Sagendorph, who was devoted to tradition, immediately reestablished the Almanac’s editorial style to be more like it had been under Robert B. Thomas. He made the content more useful and doubled down on a pleasant degree of humor, with wit, wacky stories, and fun facts. Over his 30 years as the 11th editor, Sagendorph expanded the weather predictions to cover the continental United States. He also introduced rhyme to the italicized forecasts (the “doggerel”) on the Calendar Pages. These and other prognostications established the Almanac’s historic and traditional 80 percent accuracy rate.
Under Sagendorph, circulation was healthy again, profits were good, and every edition seemed to generate more publicity nationwide. Sagendorph seemed born to the role he had acquired, reviving and reinvigorating the American cultural icon. Thus it was fitting, and sad, when he died at age 70 in 1970 on that most American holiday—July 4.
Judson Hale and a feathered friend.
As the custodian of the Almanac legacy, Sagendorph had for decades been preparing his nephew, Judson Hale, to assume the role and responsibilities of the 12th editor. Uniquely gifted with imagination, curiosity, and almanacmanship, Hale guided the Almanac into new territory, literally: The weather forecast coverage expanded to include Alaska, Hawaii, and most of Canada. He added pages, increased the page size, and engaged more writers and experts to contribute fun, factual, folklorish, and famously quirky articles. With the 1988 edition, he initiated a “Trends” section designed to predict consumer interests and record them for future generations. The “little yellow book” enjoyed immense popularity, trust, and affection from folks in all walks of life. In 2000, Hale became editor in chief in order to hire the 13th editor.
She is me, Janice Stillman, dear reader. My job is not finished, so my story is incomplete, but it has been my pleasure to introduce you to my predecessors.
–adapted by Janice Stillman from The Best of The Old Farmer’s Almanac by Judson D. Hale Sr.