Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Rainmaking in Texas by Bea Tifton

Rainmakers traveled the West in the 1800s. Many of these traveling showman set themselves up in sheds and sent mysterious gases up into the air, charging exorbitant fees. Others used the concussive theory of sending explosives into the sky to shake up the clouds. Most read meteorological signs in the atmosphere to work on days when rain was likely to occur. Many of these men believed they could actually produce rain, but most were merely opportunists selling rain instead of snake oil. In the late 1800s, the United States government decided to take a chance and funded rainmaking experiments in Texas.

A former Civil War general named Edward Powers wrote a book called War and the Weather in 1871 in which he recorded his observation that it rained following major battles.  He postulated that the loud noise level of the battle caused the clouds to release the rain they held. A senator from Illinois, Charles B. Farwell, read Power’s book years later and asked the Senate for money to make it rain.  Congress gave $7,000. 

The head of the rainmaking team was Robert Dyrenforth, a patent lawyer living in Washington, D.C. He had several clients who came to him with rainmaking patents and had become fascinated with the concept. Members of the team included George E. Curtis, a meteorologist.

The first experiment occurred at a ranch near Midland in 1891. Several hours after the team set off the explosives, a small amount of rain fell and the experiment was pronounced a success. On  August 21, the team set off the next batch of dynamite. When a slight mist occurred hours later, Dyrenforth once again claimed success.The last round of dynamite was fired for hours on August 25. Dyrenforth reported a thunderstorm occurred house later, but witnesses said it was merely a light sprinkle.

The conclusions among a skeptical scientific community, including George Curtis, were that there was no credible conclusion that the concussion method worked. Many people continued to believe it did, including Robert Dyrenforth.

The city of El Paso, Texas asked Dyrenforth to come and try to make it rain. Hours after the team sent explosives into the air, rain fell on the other side of town, for which the team took full credit. The team also conducted experiments in Corpus Christi and San Antonio. In San Diego, Texas, the team conducted an experiment partially funded by Henrietta King of the King’s Ranch. Hours after the experiment, rain fell.

As the scientific community continued to ridicule the rainmakers, the government eventually disbanded their rain making team. Dyrenforth returned to Washington, D. C. and was an object of ridicule for years to come. He died in 1910.


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  1. Wouldn't it be nice to never have a drought again? Of course, the butterfly theory would suggest that forcing Mother Nature's hand would mess something else up.

    1. Sounds like the premise of a disaster movie.

  2. It sounds as if there was something to the noise theory. I recall hearing of airplanes dropping dry ice on clouds in an effort to produce rain, but I have no knowledge of the outcome.

    1. Yes< I remember hearing about that, too. Very interesting.


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