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In 1915, San Diego Hired A Rainmaker And Floods Ensued

In the midst of California’s historic drought, the San Diego Library opened an exhibit that reminds us of the measures communities used to take to get the rain they needed.

In late 1915, San Diego hired a “moisture accelerator” named Charles Hatfield during a drought. He was said to have delivered on his promise to deliver enough rain to fill the empty reservoirs, but there was too much rain, causing a deadly flood.

Rick Crawfordof the San Diego Central Library discussed the history of this rainmaker with Here & Now’s Robin Young.

8 Facts About Charles Hatfield The ‘Rainmaker’

  1. During a drought in California, Hatfield was hired by the San Diego city council with a four-to-one vote and promised $10,000 in a handshake deal if he could make it rain.
  2. Although Hatfield was considered a rainmaker, his original profession was a sewing machine salesman.
  3. He convinced people he had the methods of creating rain from a chemical cocktail he formulated.
  4. To inject his rainmaking concoction into clouds overhead, he built a 20-foot tower in the area and burned the chemical mixture from the top of the structure. Witnesses claimed he shot the chemicals into the air like bombs, spurting fumes and smoke to ascend into the sky and convince the cumulus clouds to send down rain.
  5. He preferred the title “moisture accelerator.”
  6. Hatfield inspired the 1956 film “The Rainmaker,” starring Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn.
  7. On January 1, 1916, the rain started in San Diego and it didn’t stop for the entire month, resulting in 30 inches of rain. The floods destroyed the dam, washed out roads, lifted railroad tracks, caused property damage across the region and killed an estimated 14 to 50 citizens.
  8. Hatfield never got his money. The city council claimed the floods were an act of God, not an act of Hatfield.


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Charles Hatfield's business card showing the four towers above Crows Landing in Stanislaus County, 1907-08. (The Journal of San Diego History)
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Charles Hatfield's business card showing the four towers above Crows Landing in Stanislaus County, 1907-08. (The Journal of San Diego History)

Hatfield is pictured in 1922 concocting his chemical formula for rain. (Courtesy of San Diego Public Library)
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Hatfield is pictured in 1922 concocting his chemical formula for rain. (Courtesy of San Diego Public Library)

California's Mission Valley in 1916 got flooded after The Hatfield Rainmaker was hired. (Courtesy of San Diego Public Library)
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California's Mission Valley in 1916 got flooded after The Hatfield Rainmaker was hired. (Courtesy of San Diego Public Library)

Sweetwater Dam in California was damaged from the floods. (Courtesy of San Diego Public Library)
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Sweetwater Dam in California was damaged from the floods. (Courtesy of San Diego Public Library)

Rick Crawford is pictured at the exhibit on Charles Hatfield at San Diego Central Library. (Robin Young)
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Rick Crawford is pictured at the exhibit on Charles Hatfield at San Diego Central Library. (Robin Young)