Almanacs Were The Farmers'
Two books shaped the lives of early farmers. One, of course, was the Bible. The other was the farmers’ almanac. It was a necessary publication to start the new year.
Prior to the Civil War, few farmers gleaned any information about agriculture from the printed page. Many were illiterate. Most who could read and write were content with the simple wisdom found in almanacs.
The various almanacs published were by far the most important means of disseminating information on agriculture. They were the iterate farm family’s newspaper, radio, TV and magazine rolled into one. Some families stitched the annual editions together, and hung them on a nail by the fireplace. Some are known to have been preserved in unbroken sequence for 50 years or more.
Not only did the almanac serve as the farmer’s weather reporter, moral guide and practical advisor, but it served also the function of notebook, diary and account book. Blank pages and margins were covered with notes and comments, some of which could only be deciphered by the writer himself.
The earliest almanac published in America was originally issued by William Price at Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1639. Few were distributed, however. This changed after 1732 when Benjamin Franklin published his “Poor Richard’s Almanac,” under the name of Richard Saunders. This was the most famous almanac ever to be published and, next to the Bible, was the most widely quoted publication in America. It was published for 25 years, from 1732 to 1757, and contained such practical advice as “Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterward.”
“Poor Richard’s Almanac” was succeeded by “Poor Richard Improved,” which was published from 1757 until 1773. It devoted space to such items as “Easy methods of increasing the milk of cows.” Much of the advice was contributed by readers from their own experiences.
After the Civil War, literacy and printing presses spread rapidly through America. Farm papers and country journals were more widely read. This competition for the reader’s attention was more than most of the almanac publishers could withstand, and they turned to other endeavors.
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