The founder of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Robert B. Thomas, was born on April 24, 1766. He founded The Old Farmer’s Almanac in 1792, when George Washington was president. Here’s a small glimpse into the man and his time.
A Memoir of the Author and Editor
In the 1833 Almanac, Thomas began this “Concise Memoir of the Author and Editor of The (Old) Farmer’s Almanac,” installments of which were published over a span of 5 years.
In 1764, my father bought a small farm in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. In 1765, he married Azubah Goodale, of Grafton, at whose house the subject of these memoirs was born, April 24, 1766.
I removed with my parents from Grafton to the farm in Shrewsbury, now West Boylston. I had one brother only, born June 1768, named Aaron. In our youth, we were brought up to farming. Our father, quite a scholar for those days, instructed us at home and sent us to the winter school.
In the winter of 1783–4, my father sent me to Spencer to improve my penmanship with Dr. I. Allen. The succeeding winter, I studied arithmetic, under my father’s inspection.
My father possessed a larger library than usually found in a country town. Among many scientific works, no one engrossed more of my attention than Ferguson’s Astronomy. From this work, I first acquired the idea of calculating an Almanack [sic].
In the fall of 1787, I had an invitation to keep school in Princeton. This I continued until the first of April 1788, when I continued on my father’s farm through the summer. In the fall, I kept school in Sterling.
In April 1789, I returned to my father’s and pursued my favorite study of astronomy, occasionally laboring on the farm, and busying myself with bookbinding.
I wanted practical knowledge of the calculations of an Almanack. In September, I journeyed into Vermont to see the then-famous Dr. S. Sternes, who for many years calculated Isaiah Thomas’s Almanack, but failed to see him.
The next winter, I agreed to keep school in Sterling.
I pursued my avocations through the summer. There being few books in the country, I found good sales to the storekeepers, schoolmasters, etc.
In the fall, I called on Isaiah Thomas of Worcester (no relation) to purchase 100 of his Almanacks in sheets, but he refused to let me have them. I was mortified and came home with a determination to have an Almanack of my own. I knew that there were many things in his that were not generally approved of and which I knew I could remedy.
In the spring of 1791, I returned home to my father’s and pursued bookbinding, except when I assisted in hay-making. On January 1, 1792, I commenced keeping school.
After finishing my school, I returned to my father’s, with a full determination never to resume it again. I made up my mind to follow the binding business. Still I could not relinquish the idea of publishing an Almanack.
The last of June or the first of July 1792, I went to Boston and arranged with Osgood Carlton, a teacher of mathematics, to instruct me in astronomy as related to calculating an Almanack. This he readily consented to do.
By the latter part of August, I had made all the calculations for an Almanack for 1793. Before I left town, I disposed of my copy to two young printers for a certain percentage on all those that should be sold.
The Farmer’s Almanac, first published in 1792 by Robert B. Thomas, was an immediate success. Circulation of its second edition tripled from 3,000 to 9,000 copies.
Thomas remained the editor until his death at age 80 in 1846, supposedly while reading proofs for the 1847 edition. By then, his was the oldest almanac in the country.
This fact inspired Thomas’s successor, John H. Jenks, to add the word “Old” to the title, forever distinguishing this publication from common forms of the genre. Today, The Old Farmer’s Almanac stands as the oldest continuously published periodical in North America.
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Happy Birthday, Robert B. Thomas!
Every year, we celebrate our founder’s birthday on April 24 with cake! If you’d like to excuse to eat cake (and why not?), here is one of our favorite recipes: