Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


It is not surprising that European American settlers in the Great Plains, dependent on agriculture and plagued by drought, would develop an interest in rainmaking. The earliest attempts involved the concussion method, which was premised on the theory that gunpowder explosions triggered friction and generated nuclei to produce rain. In 1890 Congress appropriated funds to put this theory into practice. The task was given to Gen. Robert St. George Dyrenforth. Experimentation began on the c Ranch in Andrews County, Texas, in 1891 and continued at San Antonio, Texas, in 1892. No rainfall occurred. General Dyrenforth was dubbed "General Dryhenceforth," and the remaining funds appropriated for rainmaking experiments reverted to the Department of the Treasury.

The public did not give up on rainmaking. Frank Melbourne of Australia, the "rain wizard" who claimed to possess a "secret formulae" to produce rain, launched a successful career in Goodland, Kansas, in 1891. Although Melbourne guarded his techniques, other rainmaking companies soon claimed knowledge of his method. By 1892, the Goodland Artificial Rain Company and the Swisher Rain Company competed for business in South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Utah, and California. By 1893, five rainmaking companies hailed from Kansas, all claiming use of Melbourne's method. Even then doubters were still in abundance across the Great Plains. Not much had changed since the early days of rainmaking: once while Melbourne was working in the Nebraska Panhandle, Old Jules Sandoz rode down to watch; following the performance that produced thunder, wind, and a few drops of rain complete with double rainbow, Old Jules remarked to his neighbors, "I'll keep catching skunks for a living." Eventually, fraudulent practices disillusioned farmers, and rainmaking companies lost support.

By the end of the nineteenth century, interest in irrigation had supplanted interest in rainmaking in Kansas. Still, Americans' faith in science and progress carried the rainmaker into the twentieth century. The cereal manufacturer, C. W. Post of Texas, maintained belief in the concussion method. From 1911 to 1914, Post executed "rain battles" near Post City, Texas, detonating dynamite along the Caprock Escarpment. Inspired by an occasional rain fall, Post optimistically predicted that rainmaking would one day replace irrigation.

By World War I, as public interest in traditional methods of rainmaking waned, scientists turned to airplanes and cloud seeding with sand, dust, and dry ice. This method used existing clouds, rather than the earlier attempts to create clouds, and met with some local success.

See also INDUSTRY: Post, C. W..

April L. Whitten Omaha, Nebraska

Mason, Basil John. Clouds, Rain, and Rainmaking. Cambridge: University Press, 1962.

Spence, Clark C. The Rainmakers: American "Pluviculture" to World War II. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1980.

Townsend, Jeff. Making Rain in America: A History. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1975.

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