Commentary
6:19 am
Tue February 12, 2013

Into It: Henry Ford Builds Colony In Brazilian Forest

Felling a Favina Branca with hand axe, Fordlandia 1931.
Felling a Favina Branca with hand axe, Fordlandia 1931.
Credit The Henry Ford / flickr

If there's a pilgrimage for the industrialized world, it probably ends in the Amazon Rainforest, at the center of a abandoned town called Fordlandia.

By 1928, Henry Ford had just completed construction on the Ford River Rouge Complex, the largest integrated factory in the world. He controlled his supply chain and just about every resource he needed—everything except rubber. So Ford directed hundreds of employees from Detroit to work alongside natives to establish a prefab colony on 2.5 million acres of Brazilian forest.

Fordlandia looks like a Midwestern city transplanted to the jungle: small family homes and factories sit in rows under water towers and overgrown trees.

Ford spent billions on infrastructure. He commissioned a library, church, school and indoor plumbing, but he also wanted to transport and reform American society. For this, the town was complete with ice-cream shops, square dances and hamburgers.

But Ford’s vision found compounding failure. While the rubber tree is native to the jungle, the trees were planted so close together that blight and predatory insects were rampant.

Harsh schedules, prohibition of alcohol, and bans on both women and tobacco within city limits sparked a major revolt of indigenous workers in 1930. These tensions also created an industry for merchant riverboats that would supply these forbidden resources.

By 1945, synthetic rubber delivered a final blow to the dream and Henry Ford’s grandson pulled the plug.

The remains intact as it slowly loses ground back to the rainforest.