The first agricultural society was founded in Philadelphia in 1785 to disseminate information coming from Europe and propose “improvements” to legislatures and farmers. Before 1800 agricultural societies had been formed in places as far away as Hallowell, Maine and Charlestown, South Carolina in addition to Boston and New York City. These societies, at first populated by “gentlemen farmers,” members of the elite who took on agricultural enterprises as a form of leisure, encouraged the domestication of and trade in new plants and animals. Such men were awarded prizes at annual fairs for best examples of cultivated plants and finest agricultural innovations, earning them prestige through notices of premiums and awards published in annual reports and transactions. The Library Company’s extensive collection of agricultural society publications throughout the country begins in the late eighteenth century and continues through the Civil War.

Ordinary farmers, who relied on agriculture for their very livelihood, turned to other kinds of print sources for knowledge, including periodicals and popular manuals. Periodicals in the collection such as the American Farmer, the Southern Agriculturist, and the New England Farmer,addressed to the wide-ranging needs of farm and plantation owners, contained illustrations and articles on internal improvements, rural economy, and prices current in addition to poetry and anecdotes (for the edification of farmers’ wives). The Library Company’s collection also contains thousands of farmers’ almanacs from the eighteenth through the end of the nineteenth century.

Prescriptive literature, from John Bordley’s eighteenth-century Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to Francis Clater’s Every Man His Own Farrier and Richard Allen Lamb’s The American Farm Book, of the mid nineteenth century, proved invaluable to those living in the hinterlands, far away from regular access to information on animal breeding and plant cultivation. Receipt books, too, containing hundreds of recipes for preparing food, and advice on dispensing health to both the humans and animals of the family, were a boon to farmers’ wives, who were charged with many duties crucial to farm life. In addition to countless farmers’ manuals, the Library Company’s collection contains early trade catalogs from companies such as Remingtons, Markham & Company and Buffalo Agricultural Machine Works documenting the latest improvements in agricultural technologies.


Milton Drake. Almanacs of the United States (New York: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1962). 2 vols.

Evald Rink. Technical Americana: A Checklist of Technical Publications Printed Before 1831 (Millwood, NY: Kraus International Publications, 1981).

Andrea J. Tucher. Agriculture in America, 1622-1860. Printed Works in the Collections of the American Philosophical Society, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Library Company of Philadelphia (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1984).