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Melbourne, the Rainmaker

Frank Melbourne was one of the best known of a small group of rainmakers active in the Great Plains during the early 1890s. A native of Australia, he came west from Ohio in 1891 with his brother. Melbourne, also known as “The Rain King,” “The Rain Wizard,” and later as “The Rain Fakir,” worked in Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado. He had his supporters (if rain followed his efforts within a reasonable period of time), but many were skeptical of his methods.

Melbourne practiced and popularized the idea of manufacturing gas on the ground, thus creating a cloud which ascended and united with the upper air, causing rainfall. He was highly publicized and charged high prices for his services. In a letter to the Western Stockman and Cultivator (Omaha), August 1, 1893, Melbourne tried to explain and justify his recent rainmaking activities in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and earlier in O’Neill, Nelson, and Grand Island, Nebraska:

“I cannot discuss the principle embraced in my method of breaking drought,” the rainmaker said, “for the reason that as I have devoted a number of years of my life and considerable money to develop it to its present state of usefulness I think I am entitled to some remuneration commensurate with its benefit to others, . . . I have been successful in demonstrating (to any who will believe their own senses or the accounts of others) the utility of my discovery [of certain principles of rainmaking] here in Cheyenne, Wyo.; at Kelton, Utah; at Goodland, Kansas; at Holyoke, Colorado; at Nelson and O’Neil[l] in Nebraska, where prominent and representative citizens tendered me testimonials stating they believed I had brought about rainfall by my work in their respective places.“At Grand Island, the only place I was unsuccessful, I asked for an extension of twelve hours on my contract time, when I saw on the fourth day I would need them. This not being accorded me I saved my strength and money.” Rain fell near Grand Island, but it was not in the designated area.

Melbourne said, “My [rainmaking] discovery is capable, in its application, of doubling the arable area of [the] world. There is no section where rainfall cannot be produced in from three to seven days. Over Nebraska and Kansas three to five days are required. I find there is no part of the United States east of Oregon not subject to destructive drougth [sic], which I can break.

“From Nelson, Nebraska, July 1, 1892, the downpour extended from about three miles west of the place of my working, and traveling on a southwest wind extended across Iowa. At O’Neil[l] where the storm center was (see U.S. Signal Service crop bulletin, week ending August 15, 1892) the rain traveled in much the same way, the precipitation lessening in proportion to the distance from O’Neil[l].”

 

 

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

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