Wild Weather Wednesday: Nineteenth Century Rainmaking (Part One)


Let’s face it folks, weather patterns are cyclical – always have been, always will be.  One of my favorite quotes, originally attributed to George Santayana in his book The Life of Reason (1905), is: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  One only needs to review history and discover that man’s attempts to modify the weather have been at best hit-and-miss and often outright failures, eventually exposed as hoaxes.  The purpose of this series of articles isn’t necessarily meant to debunk current-day climate change mania (although that’s how I’ve always skeptically viewed it — as mania), but rather to take a look back at a period in history when climate hucksters preyed on farmers in desperate need of a drought solution.

The Storm King

James Pollard Espy, a nineteenth century meteorologist, developed a convection theory of storms.  The idea he proposed, burning forests to create more rainfall, was laughed and scoffed at by climate skeptics of the day.  Even in Philadelphia, his hometown, the newspapers and critics were many.

One Philly newspaper stepped forward, however, and supported Espy.  After his successful presentation before the French Academy of Sciences in 1841, the Public Ledger (20 Apr 1841) was crowing a bit and casting aspersions on their fellow journalists, referring to their “limited comprehension” and tendency to pronounce anything they didn’t understand as “humbug.”

This article was enhanced, complete with sources, in the June 2018 issue of Digging History Magazine.  Preview the issue here or purchase here.


  1. Wild Weather Wednesday: Nineteenth Century Rainmaking (Part Two) | Digging History - […] because General Dyrenforth was on his way to being exposed as a fraud (see Part One of this series)…
  2. Wild Weather Wednesday: Nineteenth Century Rainmaking (Part Three) | Digging History - […] making headlines — from explosive-laden balloons launched to blast rain from the sky (see Part One of the series)…
  3. Wild Weather Wednesday: Rainmaking (Part Four) – The Moisture Accelerator | Digging History - […] he had long since been found to be a fraud.  (In case you missed previous articles, check out Part…

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