A Proposal to Do Something about the Weather

“Andrew Jackson Davis on Rain,” The Practical Christian, April 23, 1853.

In a recent Practical Christian some notice was given of A. J. Davis’ plan for producing and controlling the fall of rain and the plan itself was promised to be given in a future No. Accordingly it is extracted from Mr. Davis’ fourth communication to the Editor of the “Hartford Times.”


[from the Hartford Times]

The following plan is deeply impressed upon my mind in being at once simple, practical, and—considering the extensiveness of the good to be achieved thereby—quite easily got up, and inexpensive.

Upon some highly elevated ground, say upon the brow of a considerable hill, construct an Electric Tower. The higher this tower ascends above the level of the ocean, the more absolute will be the determination of its influence upon the currents of the upper strata, and the more perfectly will it be capable of directing the wind and other aerial circulations. In the top of this Tower should be constructed two machines of very large proportions: one, an electric instrument, for the accumulation and development of this negative principle from the earth; the other, a galvanic battery, for the purpose of introducing magnetic currents and for decomposing water. This structure, with its electro-magnetic conveniences, will answer to produce and control rain in an uneven country, say like the State of Connecticut, for a circle or district of one hundred miles in diameter. But on a desert it would be influential upon a circle of not more than two hundred miles. In fact, when situated upon a plain surface, where water is scarce and heat is abundant most of the year, as in Arabia or in some parts of Africa, the Tower should not be expected to act permanently upon more than 30 miles of air in every direction from it.

This circle should be connected with the Central power by means of wire conductors, on a plan precisely analogous to the poles and conductors of the magnetic “Telegraph.” Of course it is unnecessary to describe the methods of constructing an electrical apparatus; for I mean nothing different from what is already known to scientific electricians. The dimensions of the cylindrical glass or revolving portion of the instrument, let me remark, should not be less than 10 feet in diameter, and thick enough every way to resist all centrifugal tendencies, when making seventy-five revolutions a minute. This cylinder should be moved by a steam engine of the required power; and the heat for the boiler may be obtained by a galvanic decomposition of water. You will please bear in mind, Mr. Editor, that electricity is a negative principle, is cold; and while it acts upon aerial vapor to condense its atoms into rain, frost, snow, &c., it, at the same moment gives rise to certain currents of “wind,” so called, which have much to do in all cases in determining on what part of the globe the condensed vapor shall descend. It is this invariable meteoric law which we now propose to bring within the dominion of art.

Let us suppose, for illustration, that the Electric Tower be constructed in the vicinity of this city, say on “Prospect Hill.” From this point, radiating in all directions, are metallic conductors, for the purpose of fixing the operations of the electric currents, whether they be generated by the artificial mechanism, or by the inherent forces of the earth. We wish to put a harness upon this “detached” and hitherto unmanageable Sovereign Agent among the elements. Very well; now we desire to make the rain fall upon New Haven, on the supposition that the weather has long been dry and sultry, the garden vegetations are being destroyed, and the farmers of the environs much desire the benefit of rain. But there are no clouds formed near Hartford! What is to be done? Do not you remember the proof that water, in a vaporized state, is omnipresent and coextensive with air? Yes. What, then, is now required to develop clouds? Manifestly nothing more than to reduce the temperature of the atmosphere in several localities within the electrical circuit. And the moment you have formed a few fleecy clouds in this way, they will join you in the more rapid evaporation of aqueous matter from the earth, on the principle, already explained. Well, how is this to be done? By the accumulation and elimination of electricity from the vaporous “Depots.” How are these to be made? Within an area of 100 miles diameter, there may be as many special Receivers as the country requires. Every farm and every city may be provided with one. This plan should be extensively adapted in some portions of Australia and elsewhere. These depots or receivers are nothing more than mammoth Leyden Jars, provided with perpendicular metallic conductors, fixed on the inside of the Receiver, and extending into the air as far as possible. Ten such depots will cost about as much as a popular church. The upper end of this metallic conductor should be provided with a platinum discharger with many angles—say a dodecahedron, or, at least, an octahedron, with the points and lines sharply defined, and presented, free from all contact with trees, &c., to the surrounding atmospheres.

When the Receiver is filled with electricity to overflowing, by the action of the ponderous machine in the Tower, then there is no escape for it except up the perpendicular conductor, and into the eight or twelve sided discharger. From this the electric fluid will dart off in every direction, and, at night the exhibition will be most beautiful, comprising all the meteoric phenomena of the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights: because the philosophy is the same!

The Northern Lights are produced by the discharge of the electric fluid from the north pole—darting into the atmosphere, reducing the temperature, and instantly frosting the invisible vapor, and this gives the white and other reflections of that phenomenon. Now, all we propose to do in warm climates is, to produce rain, and not frost, by this simple principle. Or, where rain is too abundant, to so employ the galvanic power at certain points of the compass as to elevate the temperature, perfect the atmospheric insulation, and send the clouds away to countries where the fall of rain is desirable. This is no speculation; it is a common law of cause and effect.

The clouds may be formed as already described. They now float overhead, light and fleecy, and far from that state of combination which makes the heavens look black and tempestuous. But the people of New Haven first need a good “sprinkling,” and so, pro bono publico, let us love our neighbor as ourself, and set the machinery in operation. How shall we commence? First, break up from the Tower all communication with the “Rain Depots” at Springfield, at East Hartford, at West Hartford, Middletown, Norwich, &c., and establish a full positive and negative connection with the Receiver at New Haven! Let the earth’s electricity, thus artificially obtained and concentrated, pour into the clouds at that point, and forthwith the insulation is broken; the winds rush to that place, bearing the clouds upon their bosom; the condensation of vapor is now rapid; and the rain descending—making the communication more complete and permanent between the earth and the clouds—a shower or protracted storm may be obtained for several miles in every direction from the initial interruption. In some countries where the lower stratum of air is very dry and free from moisture, the electric fluid should be made to reach as nearly as possible an altitude of 6,000 feet above the level of the ocean. This may be done by building a circular framework jointed like a ship’s mast, and supporting the metallic conductor by iron braces, &c., but the insulation of this whole instrument must always be perfect in order to have the entire charge of the Receiver enter the air from the lofty angular platinum Knob.

Electricity is not produced or created, but is merely obtained by friction of non-conductors; that is to say, of two substances which are already so filled with the fluid that they neither receive nor impart as manifestly as substances not so impregnated. The inexhaustible source is the Earth. And there is no limit to the quantity of it which may be artificially obtained from this fountain.

“But do you propose to bottle up electricity in the Electric Tower?” Nay; not so, Mr. Editor; let me again describe. The area of three hundred miles (or one hundred in diameter) should not only be "fenced in” by conductors suspended by poles analogous to the magnetic telegraph method; but there should also be stationed wherever the inhabitants of cities or agriculturists require rain to fall, special depots or prime conductors, connected, as before described, by means of metallic wires supported by poles in the instrument in the Tower. This is all which is proposed to be done.

I know it is supposed by some modern philosophers that a Receiver can accumulate the electric current only on condition of being in the immediate vicinity of the revolving cylinder. But this idea is clearly disproved by the fact that the earth itself eliminates this subtle agent constantly, while, at the same time, the natural prime conductor, or Leyden jar, is situated from 2,000 to 8,000 feet above the earth, and is, in fact, constituted of all the higher and rarer strata of the atmosphere! The tops of trees and the summits of mountains are the conductors thither, as explained in the preceding letter.

But the earth is a far more economical electrical machine than the one which I propose. It is more like what the chemists term an electrophorus; and I can easily foresee what an improvement may be wrought upon the Plan herein stated. There are objections, however, to describing these economical methods now—also, the minute modus operandi of the scientific system here suggested; because the people first require experience in the practical operations of the Rain Mechanism. They will only accept those suggestions as possible or practicable, which stand recommended by past chemistry and the well known demonstrations of electrical science. And so, throughout these letters, I have followed my impressions in paving, with already conceded scientific facts, the pathway to the philosophy of producing and controlling rain.

The Galvanic battery in the Tower is designed to accomplish a result which the other instrument will not do. It is supposed by most persons that the seasons, with their variable climates and phenomena, are inevitable in the order of Providence. But in fact, the seasons are not necessarily owing to the revolution and relation of the Earth to the Sun; nor yet altogether to the nearness or distance of the latter from it; because electricity and magnetism are the causes which change temperature, producing sometimes snow in summer, and June weather in the month of January; for it is well enough known that the Sun is much nearer to us in winter than in summer, and yet the former is much the coldest season. But the latter fact is partially explainable on the ground that the Sun’s rays fall more obliquely on the Earth during the winter than in summer.

The Sun’s influence is more manifested as a controlling power in the grand system of planetary revolution and equilibrium, than in the production of the seasons. The principal source of heat is magnetism, whether produced by the Sun or the internal laboratories of the Earth. I have already said that the Sun and the Earth were galvanic batteries; because every particle composing them is a magnet; and every pulsation of its (or their) inherent elements is felt throughout all the veins and arteries of existence. Upon this law of producing heat and accelerating evaporation, I see how man can, by artificial agencies, render the polar regions temperate and genial; melt away the ice in those countries far more rapidly than the soil, and stimulate the growth of much vegetation now only to be found in tropical climates.

You surely know how all the metals may be fused by the galvanic magnetism. You remember that Sir Humphrey Davy had a grand galvanic battery erected for his use, at the Royal Institution in England, whereby he was able to melt every possible substance available, and determine great chemical facts which had troubled the great scientific minds of Europe from the first. And in addition to this, you know how the Sun’s rays can be turned and altered—yea polarized, and condensed, and concentrated, and “doubled and twisted” like hempen cords—to suit man’s o’er-mastering will, and to subserve his purposes! By a systematic arrangement of convex lens and highly polished mirrors of steel, the sun’s rays may be sent half across the continent; and places now cold may thus be warmed; swamps and marshes may be boiled dry of their waters; the Dead Sea may be converted into a living body; and the wilderness made to blossom and yield abundantly. “This is impossible!” Impossible? Not so, Mr. Editor, for man is destined to put all enemies (to his happiness) beneath his feet. Do you not think it responsible to believe that Civilized Man will yet decompose the enemies in the shape of ice, stagnant water, and unwholesome marshes, and just as deliberately, too, as did Archimedes, by a simple arrangement of looking glasses, set on fire all the ships of the enemies who had resolved to besiege Syracuse?

The galvanic battery in the electric tower should be employed in tropical climates and upon deserts frequently. It is designed to decompose water in which to aid and augment the formation of rain in the upper strata; and the electric communication being from the first established within the circle of atmosphere to be influenced, the clouds will thence form rapidly; they will remain, floating from point to point overhead within the prescribed area, until they become enough filled to settle close to the upper surface of the insulator (the lower stratum of air;) and this may be broken at 30 minutes’ action and discharge of the contents of the prime conductor into the air. The rain will fall in the vicinity of whichever prime conductor is employed.

But in our climate where the formation of rain clouds is carried on rapidly enough by nature’s own galvanic processes in connection with the sun, the artificial battery can scarcely be required. And yet it would not be wise to construct an Electric Tower without a good battery of mammoth dimensions—capable of elevating the temperature to 212 degrees, at which point water boils, and its vapor rapidly ascends towards the upper strata. The ascension of this vapor will not disturb the insulator, as might be supposed, neither will the Tower, as a point in the air; the object is, to render the under surface of clouds “magnetic” to particles of water on the Earth. Chemists well know that caloric or heat has a tendency to produce equilibriums. Heat endeavors to produce, in all contiguous substances, an equal degree of temperature. This is accomplished by radiation, by conduction, by reflection. In other words, if a small body of vapor, visible or invisible, in the air, be condensed or frosted, and then its under surface heated and held in magnetic (or positive and negative) relation to the surface of water on the globe; the results will be a continual evaporation of water, an enlargement and multiplication of clouds in the vicinity, and gradual changes of “wind and weather” in the lower stratum—all being the prognostications of a shower or storm. The under surfaces of clouds will remain vaporized and magnetic until a large and steady volume of electricity is caused to enter them. The action of this fluid is immediately to reduce the temperature and condense the vapor into rain. This effect is wrought by the electricity which mountains impart to the clouds; and the rain descends in obedience to this simple law, as we have clearly demonstrated.

The further specifications, &c., for the exact construction and management of the machines in the Tower in connection with the electric circuit and “special receivers,” are for the present withheld. It is sufficient now to indicate the fact, that where an insulated prime conductor or depot is put up, and whenever the electric fluid is directed from that part into the clouds, say for the space of twenty-four hours, the phenomena will be: first, a wind blowing directly across the circle to the depot which is magnetically charged; second, a reduction of temperature in the lower stratum; third, in all cases, the absence of tornadoes, and also of gusts, except where hills intervene; fourth, the gentle fall of rain for several leagues from the point where the insulation was first broken; fifth, by reversing the poles or breaking up the connection between the Tower and the depot, a rapid cessation of the rain in consequence of restoring the requisite dryness to the lower stratum; sixth, the absence of thunder and lightning, except to a slight extent, and a general rectification of the breathing medium from all the impurities arising from dense moisture. Such is a summary view of the effects to be philosophically expected from our Plan. It is no more mysterious or impossible than the Magnetic Telegraph, or the Ericsson Caloric Engine!

By these means every State can control its own storms. And every city may secure to itself the fall of gentle showers in summer, or prevent them, whenever the general welfare of the inhabitants requires it. And so, Mr. Editor—

    —“In the winter of our discontent,
    Made glorious summer by this”—

New application of scientific principles already well ascertained; and so, too, are—

    —“All the clouds, that lower’d upon our house,
    In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.”

But enough. There are many things to say to agriculturists about the best methods to restore equilibriums to the soil; also, how clearing and underwooding elevated places, the destruction of trees on high hills, &c., disturb the equilibriums between the air and soil in the meadows and lowlands, deteriorates the ground, &c.; and still other suggestions which now flow abundantly into my mind; but I must trespass upon your space and patience no longer with further detail. I will, therefore, now conclude. Permit me, however, to express to you, Mr. Editor, my thanks for thus furnishing me a channel through which to approach a large and intelligent class of minds. In accordance with my first impressions of this whole subject, generally received more than eighteen months ago, portions of which have been suggested by different authors, I have written and you now perceive my conclusions. With a first confidence that they are true to the great unchanging principles of Nature, and hence capable of a practical application to the wants of Mankind, I remain,

Yours for Humanity,

A. J. Davis.

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