The premier issue of The Old Farmer's Almanac was published in 1792 during George Washington's first term as president, and became an immediate success under its editor Robert B. Thomas. An almanac, by definition, records and predicts astronomical events (the rising and setting of the Sun, for instance), tides, weather, and other phenomena with respect to time, and there were several published in the late 18th century. What made this almanac different? One can only surmise that Thomas's astronomical and weather forecasts were more accurate, the advice more useful, and the features more entertaining.
"Based on his observations, Thomas used a complex series of natural cycles to devise a secret weather forecasting formula, which brought uncannily accurate results, traditionally said to be 80 percent accurate. (Even today, his formula is kept safely tucked away in a black tin box at the Almanac offices in Dublin, New Hampshire.)"
Thomas edited The Farmer's Almanac for over 50 years and died supposedly proofing pages for the 1847 edition. In 2000, the thirteenth editor took over after hundreds of successful years with only one brief exception. In 1936 Roger Schaife was appointed editor and he committed the greatest of all Almanac blunders, he discontinued the weather reports and substituted temperature and precipitation averages. The public outcry was so great that he reinstated the weather reports the following year but it was too late for Roger Schaife. The 1938 edition had a circulation of only 88,000 compared with 225,000 in 1863!
One story I came upon I found particularly entertaining. In 1942 a German spy was caught by the FBI after landing on Long Island, the impact of which was felt all the way to the Almanac's Dublin, NH headquarters. In his coat pocket, the spy had a copy of The Farmer's Almanac. The government speculated that the Germans were using the Almanac for weather forecasts which meant that the book was indirectly supplying information to the enemy. Fortunately, the editor managed to get the government to agree that there would be no violation of the “Code of Wartime Practices for the American Press” if the Almanac featured weather indications rather than forecasts. It was a close call that almost ruined the Almanac’s perfect record of continuous publication.
By the early 1990s circulation of The Old Farmer's Almanac exceeded 4,000,000 copies. Quite a publishing success story. Abiding by tradition and delivering an expected style with entertaining features can apparently be a winning combination. The Old Farmer's Almanac today is America's favorite reference guide and the oldest continually published periodical.