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'
Image 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.Advertisement
Here's how Fordlandia, Ford's utopian city and industrial town, was founded - and how it completely fell apart.
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.
It's technically still there —you can find the discarded remnants of it on the banks of the Tapajos River in Northern Brazil.Advertisement
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.
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.Advertisement
Brazil was initially the world's only source of rubber, supplying industrialized Britain and the US with the material.
But that changed when a British explorer named Henry Wickham smuggled thousands of rubber seeds out of the South American country to his homeland.Advertisement
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.
All of a sudden, Britain had replaced Brazil as the titan in the rubber trade, which worried Ford.Advertisement
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.
He purchased millions of acres from an obliging Brazilian government, which was still licking its wounds from being overturned as the rubber trade monopoly.Advertisement
And in 1928, he sent his delegates with supplies to the South American country to oversee operations of the plantation.
Fordlandia was then officially founded, and a sawmill and water tower were erected. The latter bore the familiar mark of the Ford company logo.Advertisement
Forest was cleared to make way for the rubber crops.
Ford's goal was to manufacture 38,000 tons of latex from his rubber farmstead.Advertisement
He would then ship the product back up to his factories in Detroit, Michigan.
However, land was cleared not just for the rubber plantation, but for a town.Advertisement
Fordlandia was as much a city as it was a business operation.
Workers and their families lived in employee housing on site.Advertisement
The homes resembled the Midwestern abodes back in the US that Ford was accustomed to.
Native Brazilians were also among those hired in Fordlandia to work in the factories.Advertisement
They lived in the housing complex as well.
Ford paid his Fordlandia workers well and incorporated labor practices, like time clocks and eight-hour work days, into the settlement's structure.Advertisement
He also gave them access to amenities and resources while employed in the settlement, like a swimming pool ...
... a golf course ...Advertisement
... and a school.
The school was the first time many indigenous people had access to education.Advertisement
Transportation systems were implemented to get residents around the town.
And children could participate in Boy Scouts.Advertisement
A Fordlandia cemetery was built and still exists to this day ...
... as was a modern hospital.Advertisement
Fordlandia employees received free medical care at the hospital, too.
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.Advertisement
But, as NPR writes, despite the seemingly idyllic set-up, "The first failure of Fordlandia was social."
Workers were expected to abiding by a strict set of rules and labor practices.Advertisement
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.
They were pushed to attend poetry readings and English-language-only singing sessions, and alcohol and prostitution were prohibited.Advertisement
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."
Ford also built a dance hall in hopes that his Brazilian workers would take to square dancing as much as he had.Advertisement
In fact, Ford hoped that Brazilians working in the settlement would adhere to every one of the societal expectations that he set.
But ultimately, workers clashed culturally with Ford's American vision of idealism.Advertisement
The tipping point came in 1930 when the dining hall stopped its wait service and shifted to a self-serve cafeteria-style eating experience.
Workers rioted and destroyed much of Fordlandia, including the time clocks, causing thousands of dollars in damage.Advertisement
Workers' ire eventually settled down and order was restored, but the cultural discord was just one of many problems that plagued Fordlandia.
Even though they were planted in their species' native soil (rubber trees are indigenous to Brazil), the plants didn't thrive.Advertisement
When Ford set out on his Brazilian endeavor, he had refused to consult a botanist when planting the foundation of the rubber trees.
So when he unadvisedly had the first round of rubber trees planted during the hot and dry season, the plants deteriorated.Advertisement
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.
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.Advertisement
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.
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.Advertisement
The final straw came with the advent of synthetic rubber years later, rendering the whole purpose of Fordlandia useless.
So in 1945, Ford shuttered his once-glistening prospective project and sold the land back to the Brazilian government for $250,000.Advertisement
Overall, the failure amounted to a staggering $20 million loss (or $200 million in today's dollars.)
And throughout the entire venture, Ford never once set foot in Fordlandia: He managed operations from his home in Michigan.Advertisement
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.Advertisement
But despite the abandoned structures ...
... Fordlandia is currently home to some 3,000 Brazilians.Advertisement
Most work in the cattle trade or own local businesses.
The once-modern hospital on site has completely crumbled.Advertisement
Bats are reportedly the former infirmary's only occupants.
Curious visitors can take a trip to see the town and stay in a hotel close to the former settlement.Advertisement
If it weren't for the decomposing structures, Fordlandia reportedly would seem like any other rural town in Brazil.