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.

The Battle of the Overpass




May 27,1937. Richard T. Frankensteen, U.A.W. organizational director, with coat pulled over his head, was brutally beaten at the gate of the Ford River Rouge plant in Dearborn, Michigan. The clash came three months after the UAW achieved its first landmark victory at Ford, when they had forced the company to negotiate a policy toward organized labor by staging a lengthy sit-down strike at the Rouge complex. Succeded largely because of Michigan Governor Frank Murphy, who protected the strikers’ right to bargain collectively, the labor agreement did little to change the day-to-day life of Ford workers. Henry Ford remained a vehement enemy of organized labor, and he began to build an increasingly muscular force of Ford officials charged with the job of maintaining discipline in the workplace.

The May 27th incident followed an attempt of the United Auto Workers Union to distribute leaflets to the workers leaving the plant and marked the first outbreak of violence in which 16 were injured including four leafleteers (Walter Reuther, Bob Kanter, J.J. Kennedy, and Frankensteen). Beating of Frankensteen occurred around 2:00 pm when Reuther and Frankensteen were asked by a Detroit News photographer, James E. (Scotty) Kilpatrick, to pose for a picture on the overpass, with the Ford sign in the background. The news photographers were the next target; many had their cameras, plates and holders broken, and others forced to flee beyond the city limits.

Kilpatrick was lucky. He hid the photographic plates under the back seat of his car, and surrendered useless plates he had on his front seat. The next day, news and photos of the brutal attack, the so-called ‘Battle of the Overpass’,  made headlines in newspapers across the country. All of America was witness to the primitive tactics with which Henry Ford subdued organized laborers. This publicity didn’t end Ford’s opposition to organized labor, but it made his eventual acquiescence inevitable. On the journalistic end, Kilpatrick’s photographs inspired the Pulitzer committee to institute a prize for photography.

Ford, Edison, Harding, and Firestone


Warren G. Harding may not be America’s most famous president but he was probably its most well-connected.He knew people from George Eastman, John Burroughs to Charles Lindbergh and Thomas Edison. With Edison, John Burroughs, naturalist Luther Burbank, Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford, the president participated in a series of camping trips. In the above picture taken in 1921 were Ford, Edison, Harding, and businessman Harvey C. Firestone in Maryland. 

After his first experience with the Nature Club, President Harding joined the group whenever he could. En route to a new campsite on a rainy day, the Lincoln touring car carrying Harding, Ford, Edison, Firestone and Burbank bogged down in deep mud on a back road in West Virginia. Ford’s chauffeur went for help and returned with a farmer driving an ancient Model T. After the Lincoln was yanked from the mire, Ford was the first to shake the farmer’s hand. “I guess you don’t know me but I’m Henry Ford. I made the car you’re driving.”

Before, during and after Harding ran for the presidency, the nation expectedly followed the news from those camping trips. The many Maryland newspapers included photographs showing the famous men participating in various outdoor activities with President Harding, from relaxing in canvas-backed wooden folding chairs to horseback riding. One photograph captured Edison napping comfortably on the bare ground. Soon after that photograph was taken, President Harding gently put a newspaper over Edison’s face and smiled at child looking on in the crowd and said, “we can’t let the gnats eat him up, now can we?”

A local music dealer from Hagerstown made arrangements for a player piano to be at the campsite.Despite the presence of the President, an informal atmosphere prevailed around the campfire. In 1998, a play “Camping with Henry and Tom,” was written by Mark St. Germain to honor these camping trips. 


Henry Ford & Model T

 Henry Ford-Model T

Before he found his ‘perfect’ automobile with Model T in 1908, Henry Ford had been working with 19 prototypes (Models A-T) for five years. Model T marked the beginning of affordable automobiles ushering in the new era of fast living. Its original price [US$850/£180; inflation adjusted: $20.3 thousand] was half or a third of other marketed cars’ prices, and this price would continue to drop to $300 by the 1920s. Simultaneously built, mass-produced and marketed in many countries, the car was also the first international car. 

The car was so successful that Ford decided to rename his follow-up car  Model U to ‘Ford Model A’, to start things anew.  

In the above picture from Henry Ford Museum, the car entrepreneur of the century poses with a Model T in Buffalo, New York in 1921. In that year alone, about one million Model T’s rolled out of his assembly lines.