I finished reading the book entitled Fordlandia: the Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin last night. This fine publication was released in 2009 and was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award that year.
The book tells the true story of Henry Ford’s effort to establish a rubber growing plantation and community in the Amazonian jungle of Brazil south of Santarem. This effort was initiated to combat what he saw as the British and Dutch rubber monopolies in Southeast Asia. By producing his own rubber, Mr. Ford felt his automobile company could avoid the prices charged by these entities. While a plausible idea in theory, the follow-through left something to be desired.
Forlandia was the name of the community located on the Tapajos River. Ford Motor Company purchased 5,625 square miles of land in this area in 1927 (pages 105 and 107). Following misstep after misstep, the plantation never came close to producing the necessary rubber to offset the project costs, let alone provide the necessary raw materials for making tires. In 1945, Ford divested itself of this venture once and for all after nearly two decades of battling poor timing, bad advice, naiveté, short-sighted business decisions, audacious egos, infestations of leaf blight and devouring insects, parasitic and tropical diseases, and the eccentricities of Mother Nature.
To Henry Ford’s and the Ford Motor Company’s credit they did not give up without a fight and did catalogue many previously un-documented aspects of the Amazon Rain Forest. They also tried very hard to provide liveable communities at Forlandia and Belterra, but circumstances both within and beyond their control superseded the best of intentions.
Fordlandia still exits in Brazil, though largely a faint echo of its former heyday. Its downstream sister city of Belterra (beautiful land) also remains, but in better condition. Both communities are testament to the challenges we humans face when trying to tame nature and the hard (and often deadly) lessons learned when nature fights back.
Fordlandia would be an informative, useful, and interesting read for anyone interested in Brazil, the environment, agriculture, automotive history, city/land use planning, agriculture, Henry Ford, Ford Motor Company, Brazilian history, labor history, and the Amazon. It eloquently showcases a tidbit of history that very few of us are familiar with.