He Made Rain for $5,000

Rain
Rain (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

There has been some controversy in recent years about making rain artificially. An inch of rain on the prairies, when it is needed, is worth a million dollars.  It can make all the difference between a good or bad wheat crop, and in providing better feed for beef cattle.

A most colourful and exciting experiment was conducted in Alberta in 1921.  The Medicine Hat United Agricultural Association decided that a “rain-maker” would be good crop insurance, and signed up Charles M. Hatfield of California, who was said to be “a rain-making wizard.”  The contract ran from May 1 to August 1, and gave Hatfield the credit for half the rain that fell during that period, at a rate of $4,000 per inch.  The maximum he could be paid was $8,000.

Hatfield did not claim to be able to make rain, but said he could offer nature certain aids.  Eight thousand farmers each subscribed one dollar to see him do it.  The area was within a 100-mile radius of Chappice Lake, which is about 20 miles north east of Medicine Hat.  Gauges for measuring the rainfall were distributed at intervals of 50 miles.

What excitement there was when Hatfield built a 20-foot tower by the lake!  It had an open vat on top, into which he poured secret chemicals, like a witch’s brew.  People watched anxiously, or placed bets to see if distant clouds would be drawn into the area.  Nothing happened for three days, and then came nearly half an inch of beautiful rain!  Two days later even more rain fell, and again on May 11th.  Now the farmers were becoming apprehensive!  Let’s not overdo this thing!  Too much would be almost as bad as too little.  Some of them asked Hatfield to quit for a while.

The story was different in June.  Hatfield said that Chinook winds were blowing the clouds away.  People began to watch him with field glasses to make sure that he was on the job.  Prayer meetings were held for rain, and a whole  inch fell towards the end of the month.  Even the rain-maker seemed greatly relieved!

The story was the same in July when the temperature was often 90 degrees F in the shade.  Then, near the end of the month, came one of those million-dollar rains, all the way from Winnipeg to the Rockies.  The people of Medicine Hat were paying for it, but they didn’t mind.  In fact, they tried to get Hatfield to come back the next year, but he had had enough.  He was so relieved when the rain came in July that he would not accept more than $5,000 for his services.  Swift Current offered him $10,000 to work there for the next year, but he rejected it.

In Ontario, where rain falls more easily, the chief of the Dominion Meteorological Bureau described the experiment as “the most absurd thing ever perpetrated in the West.”

The average rainfall for May, June and July in the Medicine Hat area had been 6.22 inches for 37 years!  Still, who can be sure what would have happened in the summer of 1921 if Hatfield had not been there?

You can read a very interesting article at University of Calgary, and to learn about Hatfield himself, you can read his biography at Wikipedia.

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21 comments

  1. I checked Empire of Dust out of the school library, and it was really interesting. I found it lagged a bit towards the end, but it was an intriguing look at a bit of history I didn’t know anything about, and had never even heard of. Thanks! 🙂

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    • IzaakMak found a clip of a movie, an old one, and it’s about a charlottan “rain-maker”. And while writing the post, I believe I was remembering the movie scenes in my head. Click on the video link, as it’s kind of cool! 🙂

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  2. Brilliant history and I remember when they used to “seed” the clouds to produce rain. With too much rain in BC, they are thinking of building a dam and of course that is another controversy due to losing some flora and fauna. Good night.

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    • Hi P! Something has gone crazy. I did not see your comment until just now! I’ve come across this problem a few times these past few days. Nice to read you again. Yes, if it can be done, seeding the clouds, you’d think the would do it, even if just for the crops, where it is dry and arid. As for B.C., would a dam help? But I can certainly understand not wanting to lose greenery! Wouldn’t be nice if there was balance everywhere? G’Day, eh?

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  3. What a cool story! There was a movie in the 90s called The Rainmaker, and I remember seeing at least one old b/w movie where rainmaking was part of the story…

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      • Funny, your reference to “a musical” reminded that the 90s movie was a remake of the one I remembered seeing as a boy! 😀

        BTW, I had to subscribe again because WordPress had stopped sending me new post emails!

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        • Yes, I believe that’s exactly the one I was remembering. And Burt Lancaster was probably even the image I had in my mind of the rain-maker himself. Thanks! 🙂 Huh, having to re-subscribe, eh? That’s weird. Just curious, but do you subscribe to e-mail or reader? Now that I think about it, I believe I haven’t “read” anything new, in the reader, of previous subscription … I just assumed they were not posting. I’ll have to check that out, especially my own subscriptions. Thanks for that too. 🙂

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          • I love those old movies. AMC and TCM are two of my favorite TV channels! 😀

            I prefer email notifications. For some reason, WordPress discontinued my new post notifications via email for all of of the blogs I follow sometime in the middle of March. Of course I didn’t realize it until the month was just about over, and I’m still working on getting them restored! 😯

            As you can see in this forums thread, Email Notification for Latest Post Wasn’t Sent Out, WordPress offered practically no help whatsoever! I’d advise anyone who depends on email notifications to go to the Reader and click on the “Edit” like to bring up the notification status page for all the blogs they follow…

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          • I have to admit, I’ve never read that forum … Going to, now, though. Oh, and come to think about it, just yesterday I found a few comments on different posts I made that I’d not been notified of. It’s a wonder they still followed my posts, even I must have seemed rude. Okay, I should pay more attention from now on … 🙂

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