> An Utopia Called Fordlândia

Industrial cities made from scratch to accommodate the workers are not rare. However, the Henry Ford's attempt to build a jungle city in Brazil is full of dramatism. In early twenties Ford was one of the richest men in the world. His automobile company, Ford Motor Company based in Detroit, became a model of innovation on the production process. Fordism was responsible to produce more with less costs, but mass production was not enough to Henry Ford. He wanted to create a global empire by spreading and diversifying the production. 

This context determines how Ford created a plan to get sufficient rubber to produce millions of tires. The automobile manufacturing continued to grow, and the existing rubber companies were not so competitive as Ford wished. Therefore, to create the largest rubber plantation on earth started to make sense. After some interesting negotiations - Ford did not pay exportation taxes, but was obligated to let a percentage of profits -, the Brazilian government provided 10 000 square kilometers of a very isolated land in Pará, north of Brazil, to build Fordlândia.

More than an immense factory in the amazonian jungle, it was constructed a town where thousands of Brazilian workers could live. Henry Ford never was in Fordlândia, but with its managers, he planned a community following the USA standards. It was a complete disaster...
"Henry Ford didn't just want to be a maker of cars — he wanted to be a maker of men. He thought he could perfect society by building model factories and pristine villages to go with them. There was a huge clash of culture between mechanized America, Ford's utopian ideals and the way the indigenous people lived"

Things like north-American food, working schedules, clothes and architecture was imposed and consequently unwelcome by the workers. Furthermore, alcohol, tobacco and prostitutes were forbidden within the city. In 1930, the workers rebelled against managers, who fled into the jungle until the arrival of Brazilian Army. It seems a movie but it is not. Nevertheless the problem was not social only.

"Ford basically tried to impose mass industrial production on the diversity of the jungle'. Ford was so distrustful of experts that he never even consulted one about rubber trees. If he had, Grandin says, he would have learned that plantation rubber can't be grown in the Amazon. 'The pests and the fungi and the blight that feed off of rubber are native to the Amazon. Basically, when you put trees close together in the Amazon, what you in effect do is create an incubator — but Ford insisted."

After successive attempts to reset the production and the urban life in Fordlândia and then in Belterra, the death of Henry Ford in 1947 and the invention of synthetic rubber, made Ford's son to stop the investment, and consequently to lose 20 million dollars. The town became empty soon. Today people call it a 'ghost town'. A 'ghost town' with a hospital, a dockyard, a cinema, schools, a plant, a research center, many houses and roads. "Weeds grow over the American-style bungalows, and bats roost in the rafters, and little red fire hydrants sit covered in vines."

Fordlândia is just one of many attempts to build utopias that failed. Should we call Henry Ford as an utopian?
"But the more it failed, the more Ford justified the project in idealistic terms. 'It increasingly was justified as a work of civilization, or as a sociological experiment', Grandin says. One newspaper article even reported that Ford's intent wasn't just to cultivate rubber, but to cultivate workers and human beings."

(citations taken from here)
(video in Portuguese about Fordlândia)

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