From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Charles Mallory Hatfield (c. 1875-1958) was a
US "rainmaker". He was born in Fort Scott, Kansas in 1875 or 1876. His family moved to southern
California in the 1880's. As an adult, he became a salesman for the
New Home Sewing Machine Company. In 1904 he moved to Glendale, California.
In his free time he read about "pluviculture" and began to develop his own methods for producing rain. By 1902 he had created a secret mixture of 23 chemicals in large galvanized evaporating tanks that, he at least claimed, attracted rain. Hatfield called himself a "moisture accelerator".
In 1904, promoter Fred Binney begun a public relations campaign for Hatfield. A number of
Los Angeles ranchers saw his ads in newspapers and promised Hatfield $50 to produce rain. In April, Hatfield and his brother Paul climbed to
Mount Lowe and built a tower where Hatfield stood and released his mixture into the air. Hatfield's apparent attempt was successful, so the ranchers paid him $100.
Contemporary Weather Bureau reports stated that the rain had been a small part of a storm that was already coming but Hatfield's supporters disregarded that. He began to receive more job offers. He promised Los Angeles 18 inches of rain, apparently succeeded, and collected a fee of $1000. For this effort, Hatfield had built his tower on the grounds of the Esperanza Sanitarium in
Altadena, near Rubio Canyon.
1906 Hatfield was invited to Alaska, where he agreed to provide rain for $10,000. This attempt was unsuccessful and Hatfield slipped out after he had collected $1100 for his expenses. This failure did not deter his supporters.
In 1915 the San Diego city council, pressured by the
Diego Wide Awake Improvement Club, approached Hatfield to produce rain to fill the Morena Dam
reservoir. Hatfield offered to produce rain for free, then charge $1,000 per inch for between forty to fifty inches and free again over fifty inches. The council voted four to one for a $10,000 fee, payable when the reservoir was filled. Hatfield, with his brother, built a 20-foot tower beside
Lake Morena and was ready early in the New Year.
On January 5, 1916 heavy rain began - and grew gradually heavier day by day. Dry riverbeds filled to the point of
flooding. Worsening floods destroyed bridges, marooned trains and cut phone cables - not to mention flooding homes and farms. Two dams,
Sweetwater Dam and one at Lower Otay Lake, overflowed. Rain stopped January 20 but resumed two days later. On January 27 Lower Otay Dam broke, increasing the devastation and reportedly causing about 20 deaths (accounts vary on the exact number).
Hatfield talked to the press on February 4 and said that the damage was not his fault and that the city should have taken adequate precautions. Hatfield had fulfilled the conditions of his contract - filled the reservoir - but the city council refused to pay the money unless Hatfield would take liability for damages; there were already claims worth $3.5 million. Besides, there was no written
contract. Hatfield tried to settle for $4000 and then sued the council. In two trials, the rain was ruled an
act of God but Hatfield continued the suit until 1938 when the court threw the case out.
Hatfield's fame only grew and he received more contracts for rainmaking. Among other things, in 1929 he tried to stop a forest fire in
Honduras. Later the Bear Valley Mutual Water Company wanted to fill
Big Bear Lake. However, during the Great Depression he had to return to his work as a sewing machine salesman. His wife divorced him.
Charles Hatfield died January 12, 1958 and took his chemical formula with him to his grave in the
Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in
Hatfield claimed at least 500 successes. According to later commentators, Hatfield's successes were mainly due to his meteorological skill and sense of timing, selecting periods where there was larger possibility for rain anyway.
References in popular culture
Charles Hatfield and the 1916 flooding at Lake Morena is the subject of the song Hatfield, a fan favorite of the band Widespread Panic
. Singer/guitarist John Bell wrote the song after reading the story of the rainmaker in a Farmer's Almanac.
See Cloud Seeding for the modern method of producing rain.