October 29, 2022 | Last updated Jun 8, 2023

Making Rain

During the 1890s some theorized that smoke particles blown into the clouds would precipitate rain. These men appear to be trying that process. RG2545-9


Modern attempts at rainmaking, such as cloud seeding, may be more scientific and effective but are less flamboyant than former methods used by professional rainmakers. During the severe drought of 1894 in Nebraska, the “concussion theory” was based on the popular observation that the detonation of high explosives sometimes caused rain. Some went a step further, theorizing that smoke particles blown into the clouds would precipitate rain.

Louise Pound, an authority on Nebraska folklore, considered the four most well-known Plains rainmakers to be Frank Melbourne, Clayton B. Jewell, William F. Wright, and William B. Swisher. Melbourne, the most famous and probably the most mercenary of the group, worked in Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado in the early 1890s. Jewell’s experiments in rainmaking were at first sponsored by the Rock Island Railroad, for which he was a train dispatcher. Wright, a University of Nebraska professor, and Swisher, a pioneer doctor, also achieved some renown as rainmakers.

Read more about the rainmaking activities of Frank Melbourne and William B. Swisher.

– Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor for Research and Publications

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

Marker Monday: Phelps County

Marker Monday: Phelps County

Why John G. Neihardt was named Nebraska Poet Laureate in 1921

Why John G. Neihardt was named Nebraska Poet Laureate in 1921

Emigrants along the Trails at Chimney Rock

Emigrants along the Trails at Chimney Rock

About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.