Drought has always made people desperate, so rain-making was a profitable-if-inexact science in the 1800s. Those contracted to bring rain to an area fired cannons at clouds (the “concussion theory”) or used contraptions of all manner to try to make atmospheric conditions amenable to precipitation. And often they did nothing and hoped for a lucky shower so that they could collect their money. Three tales of rain-makers follow.
“The Rain Maker Failed” (August 18, 1894): “Mexico, Mo.–George Matthews, self-styled rain maker from Kansas, has failed to fill his contract here. He agreed, for $400, within six days to give Audrain County a good shower of rain. His time was up last night and he failed to deliver any rain. He packed his machinery and returned to his home in Wichita. He claims that he succeeded in producing ice clouds daily, but that the moisture clouds could not be gathered on account of the unfavorable condition of the atmosphere.”
“To the Credit of the Rain Maker” (July 28, 1894): “Lincoln, Neb.–Welcome rain fell here to-day. It will be of great benefit to corn, which was in great need of rain. Dr. Sunsher, a ‘rain-maker,’ will doubtless claim the credit for the showers. He signed a contract a few days ago to produce rain within four days. He was to have a price varying from $150 to $500 for an inch of rain. The chances are he will claim the $500 as probably an inch of rain has fallen.”
“Rainmaker Melbourne Is Frank” (June 28, 1895): “Cleveland, O.–Frank Melbourne, the erstwhile Western rain king whose services were in urgent demand in the West two or three years ago, is located in this city. In speaking of his experiences as a rain maker, Melbourne admitted that the whole thing was humbug, and that he never possessed any more power in that respect than any other man. He says the American people like to be humbugged, and the greater the fake the easier it is to work it. Melbourne made a fortune in the business and spent it like a prince.”