Poor Richard’s Almanac: 200+ Years of Great Info
Few people have influenced the course of American history as Benjamin Franklin. Aside from his numerous liberty-related achievements and ingenious inventions, Franklin was also a prolific author, with his most well-known work arguably being Poor Richard’s Almanac.
On December 19, 1732, Poor Richard’s Almanac was released to the American colonists, completely revolutionizing the world of American literature.
A Big Fish in a Big Sea
At the time, almanacs were a booming business. These booklets were packed full of weather tables, sunset/sunrise times, moon phase schedules, and other pertinent information that helped a largely agrarian society to figure out when they should schedule certain events.
Approximately 60% of all American households at the time had an almanac of some form or other in their homes, and the market was growing rather saturated. Americans had the choice of several American-written versions, as well as almanacs drafted in England.
Even Benjamin Franklin was no stranger to the idea of creating his own almanac, as his brother James had published The Rhode Island Almanac as early as 1728.
But Benjamin Franklin was never one to follow the crowd. When he finally released Poor Richard’s, everybody knew that this was something inherently different. Sales skyrocketed as a result.
What truly set Poor Richard’s apart from any other almanac at the time was that Benjamin Franklin was funny. While virtually all other almanacs were a collection of dry tables and data sets, Franklin filled his almanac with witty sayings, comic backstories, and hilarious predictions.
For example, when the first issue of the almanac was published, Franklin fictitiously wrote that the reason he was releasing an almanac was so that he could make a little bit of money to get his nagging wife off of his back.
This degree of apparent honesty both shocked and tickled readers throughout early America.
Poor Richard Predicts Death!
He even went as far as to predict the death of rival almanac publisher Titan Leeds, saying that he was doomed to die on October 17, 1773. Leeds, of course, didn’t die on that day, but Franklin wrote Leeds’ obituary anyway.
Then as future copies of Leeds’ almanac were published, Franklin would tease his readers that he was being haunted by Leeds’ ghost, who was still publishing the dead man’s almanac as a way of spiting Franklin.
Early Americans Loved These Types of Stories and Public Dialogue
But it wasn’t just the humor that caused Poor Richard’s Almanack to spike to being the number two highest-selling book in early America (the number one spot was the Bible). Franklin’s witty sayings proved to be full of what was widely recognized as good, memorable advice.
Poor Richard Educating Children
Seeing that almanacs were cheaper to obtain than a traditional novel, Franklin knew that they served as an excellent means of inculcating values into the public at large. For the most part, Americans recognized this as well, widely using almanacs to teach their children how to read.
The fact that Poor Richard’s was not only filled with useful information and was funny but also had moral lessons inside of it that could be taught to children made it an instant hit everywhere.
What Were Some of These Sayings?
See if you recognize any of the following. You were likely taught them as a kid yourself.
- Early to bed and early to rise make a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
- A spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar.
- Well done is better than well said.
- Wink at small faults; remember that you have great ones.
- Genius without education is like silver in the mine.
- Want of care does more damage than want of knowledge.
- Half the truth is often a great lie.
- If you would keep your secret from an enemy, tell it not to a friend.
- They that won’t be counseled, cannot be helped.
- Distrust and caution are the parents of security.
- Hunger never saw bad bread.
- If you desire many things, many things will seem but a few.
- A fool is one who cannot conceal their wisdom.
- Necessity never made a good bargain.
- Search others for their virtues, thyself for thy vices.
- Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship.
- When there is marriage without love, there will be love without marriage.
- Wish not so much to live long as to live well.
- Think of three things: whence you came, where you are going, and to whom you must account.
Celebrate Your American History
So this December 19, celebrate this piece of American history by doing what you can to share some of its inner secrets with others.
American culture deserves to be both shared and celebrated, and Poor Richard’s Almanac is a vital part of it.
What do you think about the Poor Richard almanac? Tell us in the comments below.
Great piece. Enjoyed it.