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Charles Hatfield of southern California was famous for rainmaking. He was called Hatfield the Rainmaker; but his preferred title was “moisture accelerator.” By releasing a mixture of chemicals into the air from a high tower, Hatfield claimed to bring in rain clouds.

He did seem to have success. He was well-known for an episode in 1916 when the city of San Diego retained his services. Following the application of his methods, a downpour resulted in a damaging fatal flood.

Hatfield’s practice took him all over North America, and it is no surprise that North Dakotans looked into hiring him. In late 1920, Bottineau residents were in deep conversation over what he promised. One man reported that he “personally had seen Hatfield work” and knew he could produce rain… with the only caveat that “he could not stop the rain just when he wanted to.” The fee, $10,000, was high—though if he failed to fulfill his contract, the deal was voided.

To check on Hatfield's claims, the president of the North Dakota Breeders Association, wrote to Dr. Edwin Ladd. Ladd was not only administrator of the pure food laws in North Dakota, he was also one of the state's US Senators.

It took several months for Ladd to write back. He had talked to various sources, and the reports were mixed. One wrote, “the feeling… has been that while Mr. Hatfield is perhaps entirely sincere in his work, he has been extremely fortunate in most cases.” Another mentioned that Hatfield was a Quaker, and unlikely to be a fake, and that a reporter who had tried to disprove Hatfield had concluded that “either through accident or design or possibly a good bet, [Hatfield] rarely failed.”

On this date in 1921, the Grand Forks Herald noted that Bottineau authorities had heard from the weather bureau in Washington, learning that Hatfield had not shared his methods with the bureau, saying he intended to take his chemical recipe to the grave. The bureau spokesperson also reported that it is practically certain that Hatfield’s methods were as fallacious as any other rainmaking claim.

Ultimately, Hatfield was not hired, though interest in his services remained high. And true to his word, Hatfield did indeed take his method to the grave when he died in 1958.

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


The Bottineau Courant, November 25, 1920, p6

The Bottineau Courant, January 20, 1921, p1

The Bottineau Courant, January 27, 1921, p8

The Ward County Independent, May 27, 1920, p12

The Bottineau Courant, April 21, 1921, p1

The Grand Forks Herald, April 26, 1921, p6

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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