Once upon a time, a boy in Massachusetts daydreamed about making an almanac. Today, he's famous for it.
Robert Bailey Thomas was born in Grafton, Massachusetts, on April 24, 1766. He and his younger brother, Aaron, lived with their parents on a farm, where they grew vegetables and fruit. Growing up, the boys had farm chores to do every day.
In spring and fall, the Thomas boys were homeschooled by their father, William, who had been a teacher. In winter, when the farm lay fallow, the boys went away for specialized study. For example, when Robert was 17, he went with two other young men to the nearby town of Spencer to improve his handwriting. The next year, he focused on arithmetic.
Robert's father loved to read and had a large library that his sons could use. Robert wrote later, "I spent most of my leisure hours reading." One of his favorite books was Ferguson's Astronomy. From it, he learned about the Moon, the planets, eclipses, and other celestial bodies and events -- and even tried to predict their cycles and appearances. In fact, it was while reading this book that Robert first got the idea of making an almanac, a small book that is a combination calendar, reference book, and how-to guide for farmers.
He had to learn a lot before he could actually do it, though.
To earn some money, Robert became a schoolteacher in a distant town. Just as when he was a boy, when school was not in session, he went home to help on the family farm. In 1789, he returned home permanently to study astronomy and open a bookbinding business with his brother. He realized at about that time that reading about astronomy was his hobby; if he wanted to publish an almanac, he needed to learn astronomical calculations from an expert. In the summer of 1792, Robert traveled to Boston to study with Osgood Carlton, a mathematician. By the end of August, Robert had completed all of the astronomical calculations for the next year. Those calculations became the basis of his first almanac -- The Farmer's Almanack (which he spelled with a "k").
Robert printed 3,000 copies of his first Almanac and priced it at nine cents. It was a best-seller! He went on to publish The Farmer's Almanac for 54 years. In 1832, he added the word "Old" to the title. Then he changed his mind and removed it. In 1848, two years after Robert died, the new editor put the word "Old" back in the title -- because the Almanac now was!