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 Alaska, where he agreed to provide rain for $10,000. This attempt was unsuccessful and Hatfield slipped out after he had collected $1100 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-metre) 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 the court threw the case out.
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.
Charles Hatfield died January 12, 1958 and took his chemical formula with him to his grave in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.
Hatfield claimed at least 500 successes. According to later commentators, 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
Charles Hatfield and the 1916 flooding at Lake Morena is the subject of the song Hatfield, a fan favorite of the band Widespread Panic. Singer/guitarist John Bell wrote the song after reading the story of the rainmaker in a Farmer's Almanac.
Hatfield's story inspired the 1956 Burt Lancaster film The Rainmaker.
In 2007, novelist T. Jefferson Parker wrote about a fictional niece of Charles Hatfield in his book Storm Runners. Hatfield's "moisture acceleration" was central to the plot of the story.