Fordlandia_p.281No Botanists, surveyors and experts were consulted in choosing the site of Fordlandia, thereby creating the city in the middle of a swampland.


It was a grand, if eccentric, economic experiment, but by staging it in the Amazonian jungles, the American industrialist Henry Ford made a fatal error. In 1927, 65-year old tycoon sent two ships to scout the area. Ford wanted all of the parts he needed for his vehicles, but did not have the rubber; to break the Europeans monopoly on rubber, he made a deal with the Brazilian government to buy 2.5 million acres of Amazon land, roughly the size of Connecticut.

He planned not only to plant rubber trees, but also to mine the land for gold; drill for oil; and harvest timber. In addition, he hoped to bring his American-style sensibilities to the region: the production line; sanitation; buildings such as Churches, cottages; a hospital; a movie theater; and the idea of fair wages for hard work.White picket fences, movie screen, hospital, water tower, “main street,” three schools, church, hamburgers, square dancing lessons, etc etc.

What he didn’t bring was a an expertise in growing rubber trees, or an understanding of the Amazon and it’s people. They planted the trees so closely packed. Disease and insects plagued the land, and Ford had to relocate the city. Although he never actually bothered to visit the place, puritanical Henry Ford allowed no alcohol or tobacco in the city. The workers hated their unfamiliar lifestyles that they revolted and the Brazilian army had to be called it.

Later, an “Island of Innocence” 5 miles upstream which had bars, clubs, and brothels, was built. Henry Ford envisioned his own version of Gold Rush era San Francisco, but then synthetic rubber came along. Announcing curtly, “our war experience has taught us that synthetic rubber is superior to natural rubber for certain of our products,” Ford finally threw his towel in 1945. By this time, he had lost over $20 million in Brazil (modern equivalent: $200 million). Ford sold the land back to the Brazilian government for $250,000, a token sum. Not a single drop of rubber from Fordlandia made it to the states.

3 thoughts on “Fordlandia”

  1. I am currently working on Fordlandia for a research paper and would like to know if you know who was/were the photographer(s) that took these pictures?

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