Poor Richard's Almanac

Poor Richard’s Almanac

On December 19, 1732, Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia first published Poor Richard’s Almanack. The book, filled with proverbs preaching industry and prudence, was published continuously for 25 years and became one of the most popular publications in colonial America, selling an average of 10,000 copies a year.

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

Franklin was born in Boston in 1706 and was apprenticed to his brother, a printer, at age 12. In 1729, Franklin became the official printer of currency for the colony of Pennsylvania. He began publishing Poor Richard’s, as well as the Pennsylvania Gazette, one of the colonies’ first and best newspapers. By 1748, Franklin had become more interested in inventions and science than publishing. He spent time in London representing Pennsylvania in its dispute with England and later spent time in France. He returned to America in March 1775, with war on the horizon. He served on the Second Continental Congress and helped draft the Declaration of Independence. He was also instrumental in persuading the French to lend military assistance to the colonies. He died in Philadelphia in 1790.

Who was Poor Richard?

Richard Saunder [sic]. 1720. Apollo Anglicanus: The English Apollo (London: Printed by J. Wilde, for the Company of Stationers, 1720). Historical Society of Pennsylvania. (left image)

Poor Robin. 1731. A New Almanack (London: Printed by W. Bowyer for the Company of Stationers, 1731). (right image)

Franklin got the name Richard Saunders from an English almanac that first appeared in 1654; the nickname “Poor Richard” echoed another popular British almanac, Poor Robin, which first appeared in 1664.

Did you know that many of the quotes we often credit to Franklin, were not his?

This was especially true of the aphorisms, their most famous feature. Franklin could have had no idea that the brief sayings he used, taken from “many Ages and Nations,” would become the primary basis for his international fame as an author. He never pretended they were his own. He wrote in Poor Richard for 1746,

“I know as well as thee, that I am no poet born; and it is a trade I never learnt, nor indeed could learn. . . .Why then should I give my readers bad lines of my own, when good ones of other people’s are so plenty? ’Tis methinks a poor excuse for the bad entertainment of guests, that the food we set before them, though coarse and ordinary, is of one’s own raising, off one’s own plantation, etc. when there is plenty of what is ten times better, to be had in the market.”

He explains his purpose in publishing the Almanack.

In 1732 I first published my Almanack, under the name of Richard Saunders; it was continu’d by me about 25 Years, commonly call’d Poor Richard’s Almanack. I endeavor’d to make it both entertaining and useful, and it accordingly came to be in such Demand that I reap’d considerable Profit from it, vending annually near ten Thousand. . . . I consider’d it as a proper Vehicle for conveying Instruction among the common People, who bought scarcely any other Books. I therefore filled all the little Spaces that occur’d between the Remarkable Days in the Calendar, with Proverbial Sentences, chiefly such as inculcated Industry and Frugality, as the Means of procuring Wealth and thereby securing Virtue, it being more difficult for a Man in Want to act always honestly, as (to use here one of those Proverbs) it is hard for an empty Sack to stand upright.

Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography



One response

  1. I’ve always wondered what exactly was Poor Richard’s Almanac, without ever giving a thought to who Poor Richard was. Now I know the answer to both questions!