The Failure Of Henry Ford’s Utopian City Fordlandia

Samuel Reason | July 26th, 2019

In the 1920s the famous US industrialist Henry Ford wanted to build a city dedicated to the values that gave his company success. And of course, figure out a way to produce cheap rubber. But the jungle city that bore his name became one of his greatest failures.

The scene was Brazil in 1928, a failing economy and increasing poverty, suddenly Henry Ford appeared with a plan that would help turn their country around. Local papers were raving about the future their new neighbor was going to bring them, speculation ran wild with some claiming Ford would build a new railroad to the coast or a factory for his cars. Above all, they just wanted to know when he was coming and what he would be doing.

Officially his venture in Brazil was touted as a business venture, his problem was that rubber production was under British control as they held down a monopoly in Sri Lanka. Ford wanted to find a cheap source of latex that would allow Ford Motor Company to produce its tires and as a result, cut down costs.

However his vision was much bigger, he did not simply want a production facility for shipping latex back to his HQ. He wanted to build a whole city that embodied his values, a city that championed all the concepts he used throughout his career. Because Ford’s greatest achievements were arguably not mechanical they were social: he took great pride in the fair treatment of his staff. He wanted to take it one step further and create the ideal city.

No one so far had been able to turn Brazil’s rubber crop from Amazon into massive profits, building too close to the Amazon just caused an influx of parasites and disease. So he bought land in Brazil, naming it Fordlandia, sure that he would be able to accomplish his dream. But Fordlandia never became what he really visioned, peopled rioted and never really followed the rules.

Worst of all, it never produced any rubber, all attempts of cultivating rubber trees never worked. And when Ford II took over the company in 1945 he quickly sold off all of Ford’s underperforming assets, with Fordlandia the first on the chopping block.

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