Book Review - 'Fordlandia - The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City,' by Greg Grandin - Review - NYTimes.com
In 1927, Ford, the richest man in the world, needed rubber to make tires, hoses and other parts for his cars. Rubber does not grow in Michigan, and European producers enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the rubber trade because of their Asian colonies. So, typically, the car magnate decided to grow his own.
The site chosen for Ford’s new rubber plantation was an area of some 2.5 million acres on the banks of the Tapaj�s River, a tributary of the Amazon about 600 miles from the Atlantic. It took Ford’s agents approximately 18 hours to reach the place by riverboat from the nearest town.
Ford’s vision was a replica Midwestern town, with modern plumbing, hospitals, schools, sidewalks, tennis courts and even a golf course. There would be no drink or other forms of immorality, but gardening for all and chaste dances every week.
Fordlandia would not just make car production more efficient. By applying the principles of rational organization to turn out goods at an ever faster pace, Ford would also be improving the lives of those who worked in the new town, bringing health and wealth to American managers and Brazilian laborers alike. In Grandin’s words, this outpost of modern capitalism was to be “an example of his particular American dream, of how Ford-style capitalism — high wages, humane benefits and moral improvement — could bring prosperity to a benighted land.”
. . . Instead of a miniature but improved North American city, what Ford created was a broiling, pestilential hellhole of disease, vice and violence, closer to Dodge City than peaceable Dearborn.