Charles Mallory Hatfield (July 15, 1875 – January 12, 1958) was an American "rainmaker."
He was born in Fort Scott, Kansas on July 15, 1875. His family moved to southern California in the 1880s. 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 Hatfield 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 claimed, attracted rain. Hatfield called himself a "moisture accelerator".
In 1904, promoter Fred Binney began 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 this. He began to receive more job offers. He promised Los Angeles 18 inches (46 centimetres) 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.
In 1906 Hatfield was invited to the Yukon Territory, where he agreed to create rain for the water-dependent mines of the Klondike Goldfields. The Klondike contract was for $10,000, but after unsuccessful efforts, Hatfield slipped away, collecting only $1,100 for his expenses. This failure did not deter his supporters.
In 1915 the San Diego city council, pressured by the San 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 ($393.7 per centimetre) for between forty to fifty inches (1.02 to 1.27 m) and free again over fifty inches (1.27 m). 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 (6 m) 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 requirements of his contract - filling the reservoir - but the city council refused to pay the money unless Hatfield would accept 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 two courts decided that the rain was an act of God, which absolved him of any wrongdoing, but also meant he did not get his fee.
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.
Hatfield claimed at least 500 successes. According to later commentators,[who?] Hatfield's successes were mainly due to his meteorological skill and sense of timing, selecting periods where there was a high probability of rain anyway.
References in popular culture
The San Diego incident is chronicled in a book entitled Wizard of Sun City by Garry Jenkins.
Charles Hatfield and the 1916 flooding at Lake Morena is the subject of the song Hatfield, a fan favorite of the southern jam band, Widespread Panic. Singer/guitarist John Bell wrote the song after reading the story of the rainmaker in a Farmers' Almanac.
In 2007, novelist T. Jefferson Parker wrote about a fictional great-great grand daughter of Charles Hatfield in his book Storm Runners. Hatfield's "moisture acceleration" was central to the plot of the story.
Joshua Davis, lead singer of the Michigan based band Steppin' In It wrote a song about "The Weatherman" called "Charles Hatfield Blues".
See cloud seeding for the modern method of producing rain.
- San Diego History
- http://blogs.sos.wa.gov/library/index.php/2012/11/a-rainmaker-meets-his-match-in-ephrata/, A Rainmaker Meets His Match, Ephrata, Wash., 1920