The Nautical Almanac is one of the longest-running publications in the Federal Government, dating back to 1852. It’s also one of the most distinctive-looking books I’ve ever seen. The covers are orange and made of a stiff board-like material, and the cover graphics certainly look like they date back to 1852. Between those covers lie the complex mathematical tables that, “along with the chronometer, the sextant, a steady hand and a keen eye, are the resources needed to navigate by the stars.” Honestly, the contents mean less than nothing to a non-math person, but what images they conjure up for a history person! Old salts striding across a ship’s deck, sextant in hand, getting ready to round the Horn – well, you get the idea.
The Almanac is a unique example of a Government publication produced by two countries – the United States Naval Observatory (USNO) and Her Majesty’s Nautical Almanac Office (HNMAO). Also unique is that the U.S. part of the Almanac is in the public domain, but the British part is under Crown Copyright.
The Nautical Almanac is one of a number of almanacs published by the U.S. Naval Observatory: the Astronomical Almanac, the Air Almanac, and Astronomical Phenomena. Together, they provide a corpus of navigational knowledge that spans the centuries but is still the ultimate backup to the GPS technology of today.