Henry Ford built a utopian city inside Brazil's Amazon rainforest that's now a ghost town - take a look around the abandoned city that was once 'Fordlandia'

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fordlandia the henry ford 54Image from the Collections of The Henry Ford

  • Automaker Henry Ford, of Ford Motor Company, turned to the Brazilian rainforest in the 1920s to construct a rubber plantation that would serve as his own personal supply of the material.
  • The town, dubbed Fordlandia, was more than an industrial operation - it was Ford's attempt to establish a picturesque American society.
  • Here's how Fordlandia was founded before completely falling apart.

Deep inside Brazil's Amazon rainforest sit the dilapidated remains of what looks like an industrial town. One of the first things you'll see upon entering is a water tower with a faded "Ford" logo.

That's because almost a century ago, the founder of Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford, turned that space of land into not only a business operation but a social experiment of sorts.

Here's how Fordlandia, Ford's utopian city and industrial town, was founded - and how it completely fell apart.

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If you've never heard of Fordlandia before, no worries — Google has. The search engine recognizes it easily, tucked away in the Brazilian city of Aveiro.

If you've never heard of Fordlandia before, no worries — Google has. The search engine recognizes it easily, tucked away in the Brazilian city of Aveiro.

Source: Google Maps

It's technically still there —you can find the discarded remnants of it on the banks of the Tapajos River in Northern Brazil.

It's technically still there —you can find the discarded remnants of it on the banks of the Tapajos River in Northern Brazil.

Source: BBC

It may not look like it nowadays, but decades before, the colony was Ford's bright and shiny idea for a new kind of industrial operation. And at first, it seemed promising.

It may not look like it nowadays, but decades before, the colony was Ford's bright and shiny idea for a new kind of industrial operation. And at first, it seemed promising.

Source: NPR

Back in the early 1920s, business was booming for Ford in the US. Ford Motor Company was selling thousands of cars and using massive amounts of rubber for its tires.

Back in the early 1920s, business was booming for Ford in the US. Ford Motor Company was selling thousands of cars and using massive amounts of rubber for its tires.

Source: Atlas Obscura

Brazil was initially the world's only source of rubber, supplying industrialized Britain and the US with the material.

Brazil was initially the world's only source of rubber, supplying industrialized Britain and the US with the material.

Source: The Culture Trip

But that changed when a British explorer named Henry Wickham smuggled thousands of rubber seeds out of the South American country to his homeland.

But that changed when a British explorer named Henry Wickham smuggled thousands of rubber seeds out of the South American country to his homeland.

Source: The Culture Trip

Britain planted the seeds in its Southeast Asian colonies, where the rubber crops, free from the insects that had infected them back in Brazil, thrived.

Britain planted the seeds in its Southeast Asian colonies, where the rubber crops, free from the insects that had infected them back in Brazil, thrived.

Source: The Culture Trip

All of a sudden, Britain had replaced Brazil as the titan in the rubber trade, which worried Ford.

All of a sudden, Britain had replaced Brazil as the titan in the rubber trade, which worried Ford.

Source: The Culture Trip

So for the sake of efficiency, Ford turned to the Amazon Rainforest to construct a rubber plantation that would serve as his own personal supply of the material.

So for the sake of efficiency, Ford turned to the Amazon Rainforest to construct a rubber plantation that would serve as his own personal supply of the material.

Source: Gizmodo

He purchased millions of acres from an obliging Brazilian government, which was still licking its wounds from being overturned as the rubber trade monopoly.

He purchased millions of acres from an obliging Brazilian government, which was still licking its wounds from being overturned as the rubber trade monopoly.

Source: Atlas Obscura

And in 1928, he sent his delegates with supplies to the South American country to oversee operations of the plantation.

And in 1928, he sent his delegates with supplies to the South American country to oversee operations of the plantation.

Source: Atlas Obscura

Fordlandia was then officially founded, and a sawmill and water tower were erected. The latter bore the familiar mark of the Ford company logo.

Fordlandia was then officially founded, and a sawmill and water tower were erected. The latter bore the familiar mark of the Ford company logo.

Source: The Henry Ford

Forest was cleared to make way for the rubber crops.

Forest was cleared to make way for the rubber crops.

Source: The Culture Trip

Ford's goal was to manufacture 38,000 tons of latex from his rubber farmstead.

Ford's goal was to manufacture 38,000 tons of latex from his rubber farmstead.

Source: Atlas Obscura, 99 Percent Invisible

He would then ship the product back up to his factories in Detroit, Michigan.

He would then ship the product back up to his factories in Detroit, Michigan.

Source: The Culture Trip

However, land was cleared not just for the rubber plantation, but for a town.

However, land was cleared not just for the rubber plantation, but for a town.

Source: The Culture Trip

Fordlandia was as much a city as it was a business operation.

Fordlandia was as much a city as it was a business operation.

Source: Atlas Obscura

Workers and their families lived in employee housing on site.

Workers and their families lived in employee housing on site.

Source: Atlas Obscura

The homes resembled the Midwestern abodes back in the US that Ford was accustomed to.

The homes resembled the Midwestern abodes back in the US that Ford was accustomed to.

Source: The Culture Trip

Native Brazilians were also among those hired in Fordlandia to work in the factories.

Native Brazilians were also among those hired in Fordlandia to work in the factories.

Source: Atlas Obscura

They lived in the housing complex as well.

They lived in the housing complex as well.

Source: Atlas Obscura

Ford paid his Fordlandia workers well and incorporated labor practices, like time clocks and eight-hour work days, into the settlement's structure.

Ford paid his Fordlandia workers well and incorporated labor practices, like time clocks and eight-hour work days, into the settlement's structure.

Source: The Henry Ford, 99 Percent Invisible

He also gave them access to amenities and resources while employed in the settlement, like a swimming pool ...

He also gave them access to amenities and resources while employed in the settlement, like a swimming pool ...

Source: The Henry Ford

... a golf course ...

... a golf course ...

Source: The Henry Ford

... and a school.

... and a school.

Source: The Henry Ford

The school was the first time many indigenous people had access to education.

The school was the first time many indigenous people had access to education.

Source: 99 Percent Invisible

Transportation systems were implemented to get residents around the town.

Transportation systems were implemented to get residents around the town.

Source: BBC

And children could participate in Boy Scouts.

And children could participate in Boy Scouts.

A Fordlandia cemetery was built and still exists to this day ...

A Fordlandia cemetery was built and still exists to this day ...

Source: The Culture Trip

... as was a modern hospital.

... as was a modern hospital.

Source: The Henry Ford

Fordlandia employees received free medical care at the hospital, too.

Fordlandia employees received free medical care at the hospital, too.

Source: 99 Percent Invisible

The idea was to not only produce a stockpile of rubber for manufacturing Ford's vehicles, but also to cultivate Ford's idea of the perfect American society based on his own personal morals and ideology.

The idea was to not only produce a stockpile of rubber for manufacturing Ford's vehicles, but also to cultivate Ford's idea of the perfect American society based on his own personal morals and ideology.

Source: The Culture Trip

But, as NPR writes, despite the seemingly idyllic set-up, "The first failure of Fordlandia was social."

But, as NPR writes, despite the seemingly idyllic set-up, "The first failure of Fordlandia was social."

Source: 99 Percent Invisible, NPR

Workers were expected to abiding by a strict set of rules and labor practices.

Workers were expected to abiding by a strict set of rules and labor practices.

Source: NPR

Fordlandia residents were fed a meatless diet, modeled after Ford's own vegetarian habits, and were served things like brown rice, whole wheat bread, and oatmeal.

Fordlandia residents were fed a meatless diet, modeled after Ford's own vegetarian habits, and were served things like brown rice, whole wheat bread, and oatmeal.

Source: NPR

They were pushed to attend poetry readings and English-language-only singing sessions, and alcohol and prostitution were prohibited.

They were pushed to attend poetry readings and English-language-only singing sessions, and alcohol and prostitution were prohibited.

Source: Atlas Obscura

Many workers railed against those restrictions, with some taking to a nearby island to establish a bar and a brothel to let loose after a long day's work. They called it "The Island of Innocence."

Many workers railed against those restrictions, with some taking to a nearby island to establish a bar and a brothel to let loose after a long day's work. They called it "The Island of Innocence."

Source: 99 Percent Invisible, The Henry Ford

Ford also built a dance hall in hopes that his Brazilian workers would take to square dancing as much as he had.

Ford also built a dance hall in hopes that his Brazilian workers would take to square dancing as much as he had.

Source: Atlas Obscura, 99 Percent Invisible

In fact, Ford hoped that Brazilians working in the settlement would adhere to every one of the societal expectations that he set.

In fact, Ford hoped that Brazilians working in the settlement would adhere to every one of the societal expectations that he set.

Source: 99 Percent Invisible

But ultimately, workers clashed culturally with Ford's American vision of idealism.

But ultimately, workers clashed culturally with Ford's American vision of idealism.

Source: 99 Percent Invisible

The tipping point came in 1930 when the dining hall stopped its wait service and shifted to a self-serve cafeteria-style eating experience.

The tipping point came in 1930 when the dining hall stopped its wait service and shifted to a self-serve cafeteria-style eating experience.

Source: NPR, 99 Percent Invisible

Workers rioted and destroyed much of Fordlandia, including the time clocks, causing thousands of dollars in damage.

Workers rioted and destroyed much of Fordlandia, including the time clocks, causing thousands of dollars in damage.

Source: NPR, 99 Percent Invisible

Workers' ire eventually settled down and order was restored, but the cultural discord was just one of many problems that plagued Fordlandia.

Workers' ire eventually settled down and order was restored, but the cultural discord was just one of many problems that plagued Fordlandia.

Source: 99 Percent Invisible

Even though they were planted in their species' native soil (rubber trees are indigenous to Brazil), the plants didn't thrive.

Even though they were planted in their species' native soil (rubber trees are indigenous to Brazil), the plants didn't thrive.

Source: Atlas Obscura

When Ford set out on his Brazilian endeavor, he had refused to consult a botanist when planting the foundation of the rubber trees.

When Ford set out on his Brazilian endeavor, he had refused to consult a botanist when planting the foundation of the rubber trees.

Source: Atlas Obscura, 99 Percent Invisible

So when he unadvisedly had the first round of rubber trees planted during the hot and dry season, the plants deteriorated.

So when he unadvisedly had the first round of rubber trees planted during the hot and dry season, the plants deteriorated.

Source: The Culture Trip

Ford had also made the mistake of having the trees planted in tight rows away from steady water flow, giving fungi and pests plenty of room to wreak havoc on the young buds.

Ford had also made the mistake of having the trees planted in tight rows away from steady water flow, giving fungi and pests plenty of room to wreak havoc on the young buds.

Source: NPR

As a result, leaf blight set in and destroyed the saplings. The rubber trees produced barely any output, with Fordlandia only touting 750 tons of latex — none of which ever made it into a Ford car.

As a result, leaf blight set in and destroyed the saplings. The rubber trees produced barely any output, with Fordlandia only touting 750 tons of latex  — none of which ever made it into a Ford car.

Source: NPR, Atlas Obscura

Despite the tremendous failure over Fordlandia's early years, Ford persisted and funneled more and more money into the project, even moving the settlement downstream for a fresh patch of soil in 1933. He renamed the new section Belterra, but that, too, failed.

Despite the tremendous failure over Fordlandia's early years, Ford persisted and funneled more and more money into the project, even moving the settlement downstream for a fresh patch of soil in 1933. He renamed the new section Belterra, but that, too, failed.

Source: Atlas Obscura, The Henry Ford

As for Ford's emissaries from Detroit, they also didn't have it easy. They weren't accustomed to the hot, humid climate, and their families — particularly their wives — didn't have much to do.

As for Ford's emissaries from Detroit, they also didn't have it easy. They weren't accustomed to the hot, humid climate, and their families — particularly their wives — didn't have much to do.

Source: NPR

The final straw came with the advent of synthetic rubber years later, rendering the whole purpose of Fordlandia useless.

The final straw came with the advent of synthetic rubber years later, rendering the whole purpose of Fordlandia useless.

Source: Gizmodo

So in 1945, Ford shuttered his once-glistening prospective project and sold the land back to the Brazilian government for $250,000.

So in 1945, Ford shuttered his once-glistening prospective project and sold the land back to the Brazilian government for $250,000.

Source: Atlas Obscura

Overall, the failure amounted to a staggering $20 million loss (or $200 million in today's dollars.)

Overall, the failure amounted to a staggering $20 million loss (or $200 million in today's dollars.)

Source: Atlas Obscura

And throughout the entire venture, Ford never once set foot in Fordlandia: He managed operations from his home in Michigan.

And throughout the entire venture, Ford never once set foot in Fordlandia: He managed operations from his home in Michigan.

Source: NPR, History

Now, 80 years later, a deteriorated factory building stands as a reminder of Fordlandia's failure.

Now, 80 years later, a deteriorated factory building stands as a reminder of Fordlandia's failure.

The water tower still boasts a faded Ford logo.

The water tower still boasts a faded Ford logo.

But despite the abandoned structures ...

But despite the abandoned structures ...

... Fordlandia is currently home to some 3,000 Brazilians.

... Fordlandia is currently home to some 3,000 Brazilians.

Source: The Culture Trip

Most work in the cattle trade or own local businesses.

Most work in the cattle trade or own local businesses.

Source: The Culture Trip

The once-modern hospital on site has completely crumbled.

The once-modern hospital on site has completely crumbled.

Source: Wikimedia

Bats are reportedly the former infirmary's only occupants.

Bats are reportedly the former infirmary's only occupants.

Source: BBC

Curious visitors can take a trip to see the town and stay in a hotel close to the former settlement.

Curious visitors can take a trip to see the town and stay in a hotel close to the former settlement.

Source: The Culture Trip

If it weren't for the decomposing structures, Fordlandia reportedly would seem like any other rural town in Brazil.

If it weren't for the decomposing structures, Fordlandia reportedly would seem like any other rural town in Brazil.

Source: Culture Trip

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