What’s Philadelphia without an almanac? Ask folks about this classic communications conveyance and they’ll probably tell you about Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, now 275 years since the first issue. And there were so many more, before and after. Few folks, if any, can speak of Samuel Atkins’ Kalandarium Pennsilvaniense of 1685, the first of its kind in these parts, issued 322 years ago. Printer Atkin’s was “really troubled” when he heard ”people generally complaining that they scarcely know how time passed . . . for want of a Diary, or Day Book, which we call an Almanac.” Mindful of his public service, Atkins compiled one. But no good deed goes unpunished. Atkins’s almanac was the first book printed in Philadelphia. It was also the first one to be censored.
Today, we pick up where we left off with the Philadelphia Almanac And Citizens’ Manual. We complied two volumes published by the venerable Library Company of Philadelphia in the mid 1990s. Ever since, we’ve watched so much worthy ephemera pass us by. Seems this iteration of the genre — The Sixth Square Almanac — is about right.
So, where to begin (again)? Let’s start with the start of something ancient: the calendar. As we look at a selection of the happenings on Philadelphia’s New Year’s Days from the last century and a half, we find a few events that set us apart from place and past, but more that binds us to it.
Below is a sampling to illustrate our point. (Or, if you choose, in this almanac you may make a point of your own.)
1856 – Banks suspended; financial panic.
1871 – Robbers, masquerading as policemen, rob a Kensington bank of $100,000.
1876 – Low water in the Delaware River causes Philadelphia-Camden ferryboats to run aground.
1901 – Mummers inaugurate annual parade up Broad Street.
1902 – Keystone Telephone Company begins business, with 50 telephones. There were 2,370,000 telephones in the United States.
1903 – Officials seize 300 illegal gambling machines.
1903 – Andrew Carnegie offers Philadelphia funds for the expansion of its Free Library system, conditional on the city’s willingness to provide sites for 30 new branch libraries.
1906 – Director of Public Safety orders police to “take athletic exercise for the purpose of reducing flesh.”
1908 – Low bids for resurfacing country roads ignored. Contract awarded to Edwin H. Vare, the highest bidder.
1913 – Rittenhouse Square and nearby neighborhoods quarantined after outbreak of smallpox.
1922 – After a parade, construction begins on piers of the first bridge to span the Delaware River.
1925 – During a heavy gale, the Coast Guard removes passengers and crew from the ship Mohawk, on fire in the Delaware Bay.
1926 – The Liberty Bell’s note (E-flat) is broadcast nation-wide over radio to begin celebrating the nation’s Sesquicentennial year.
1927 – Outgoing Governor Gifford Pinchot delivers a scorching farewell address in Harrisburg. (Pinchot coined the term conservation for natural resource management and developed a lifeboat-based method to extract fresh water from fish.)
1930 – Regional Planning Federation outlines a Schuylkill Valley Park System.
1934 – Pennsylvania’s State liquor store system begins. Philadelphia has 21 stores.
1935 – First “old age pension checks” issued by the state.
1935 – Mummers hold first united parade since 1931.
1936- Eugene Ormandy named conductor of Philadelphia Orchestra; Leopold Stokowski continues as guest conductor for 20 concerts in the upcoming season.
1937 – Pennsylvania legislature opens session with Democrats in control of both houses for first time since 1845.
1938 – Pennsylvania unemployment compensation offices jammed by benefit applicants.
1945 – Stacy B. Lloyd receives Gimbel Philadelphia Award for Red Cross prisoner-of-war work.
1949 – Report of “Committee of 15″ cites “many evils” in city government, identifying waste, inefficiency “and drones in some departments.”
1951 – Independence Hall and other historic structures on Independence Square formally turned over to Federal Government custody. City retains ownership.
1952 – Academy of Music packed as Joseph S. Clark, Jr. takes oath of office as first Democratic mayor in 67 years.
1966 – Republican Arlen Specter sworn in as District Attorney by Governor Scranton before 400 guests in City Hall.
1966 – Mayor’s Stadium Advisory Commission recommends that the city scrap proposed design for $25 million sports stadium and plan a new one with a retractable dome.
1968 – Governor Shafer signs bill increasing the state sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent, the highest in the nation.
1969 – The Lindenwold high-speed line makes its first run from Lindenwold to Camden, NJ. Service extended to 16th and Locust, in Philadelphia on February 15.
1973 – A stink bomb was thrown in the spectrum during a performance of Moscow Circus while 200 outside protested the Soviet Union’s “education tax” on Jewish people wishing to emigrate. Nine persons were slightly hurt.
1974 – In the third oil spill in 15 days, about 20,000 gallons spill from a Mobil Oil Corporation tank on Duck Island, south of Trenton, NJ. A three-mile slick approaches Philadelphia.