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What was Fordlandia?

the water tower and main warehouse in Fordlandia, Brazil

Fordlandia is a district in the city of Aveiro, in the Brazilian state of Para. It is situated on the east banks of the Tapajos river, which is one the south of the city of Santarem. It was established by American businessperson Henry Ford in 1928 in the American Rainforest. It is a manufactured industrial town that was envisioned to be occupied by 10,000 people to create a source of cultivated rubber for the automobile manufacturing operations of the Ford Motor Company in the United States. However, it failed and has been abandoned since 1934.

From 1934, the town was mostly deserted. There were only 90 residents still living in it until the early 2000swhen it saw an increase in population. As of 2017, it has been home to around 3,000 people. If you want to know more about Fordlandia, what it was before, and what happened to it, read on as we are going to tell you more about it.

History of Fordlandia

It was in 1926 when work on the area was started by the Companhia Ford Industrial do Brasil. However, it was immediately hindered by poor logistics and as well as ailments that affected the workers who sufferedfrom yellow fever and malaria. During those times, no roads were available yet in the area, and it was only accessible via the Tapajos River.

The site was established as a planned community with different areas of the city being designated for the Brazilian workers and the American managers who lived in the supposed American Village. Typical American houses were built on the site, including a hospital, library, school, and hotel. It also had a playground, a golf course, and a swimming pool.

The Ford Motor Company sent two merchant ships in 1928, which are the Lake Ormoc and Lake Farge. These were loaded with equipment and furnishings ranging from doorknobs to the water tower for the town. The town was then initiated under the name Fordlandia.There were several offices that were opened in the cities of Belem and Manaus to hire workers. They promised good wages, and people in nearby states answered.

The latex is strenuous in the lower areas of the tree in lower temperatures, and as the temperature increases during the day, the latex spreads throughout the tree, making tapping less effective. With this, the typical day of a rubber tapper started early in the morning, at around 5am, and ends at noon. The plantation was also divided, having each worker assigned to different areas to prevent them from tapping the same trees continuously.

Fordlandia had a strict set of rules implemented by the managers. Tobacco, alcohol, women, and even football were not allowed within the town, including inside the houses of the workers. There were inspectors that would go from one house to another to check how organized they were, and as well as to enforce the rules. However, the people evaded the rules by paddling out to merchant riverboats tied beyond the town’scontrol. They often hid illegal imports inside fruits like watermelons. There was also a small settlement that was established 8 kilometers upstream called the Island of Innocence, where there are nightclubs, bars, and brothels.

The land of Fordlandia was rocky, hilly, and infertile. It’s because no one among the managers of Ford had the necessary knowledge when it comes to tropical agriculture. The rubber trees in the wild grow apart from each other. They stand as protection against plagues and diseases, often growing close to bigger trees of other species for additional support. However, in Fordlandia, the trees were planted close together, making them easy prey for tree blight, red spiders, sauva ants, leaf caterpillars, and lace bugs.

The workers on the plantations were given food that they were not familiar with, such as canned food and hamburger. They were also forced to live in American-style homes. Most of them disliked the way they were treated. They were also required to wear ID badges and work through the middle of the day under the sun. With this, most of them would often refuse to work.

aerial view of Fordlandia in 1934

Revolutions in Fordlandia

The native workers in Fordlandia grew tired of the American food in 1930. With this, they revolted in the cafeteria of the town, which became known as the Breaking Pans. They continued to cut the telegraph wires and chased away the managers, even the cook, into the jungle for a few days. The revolt only ended when the Brazilian Army arrived. After that, agreements were made on the type of food the workers would be served.

The Failure of Ford

The government of Brazil was suspicious of foreign investments, especially in the northern Amazonian region. With this, they offered little help. It was not long before a lot of problems began to affect the project, and the decision was made to transfer to a different place. In 1934, Fordlandia was abandoned by the Ford Motor Company, and the project was transferred downstream to Belterra. It was about 40 kilometers south of the city of Santarem, which has better conditions to grow rubber.

Synthetic rubber had been developed in 1945, which reduced the world demand for natural rubber. With this, the second town of Ford was also abandoned. Henry Ford’s grandson Henry Ford II sold the landencompassing both towns back to the Brazilian government in 1945, for a loss of more than US$20 million, which is equivalent to about $284 million today. Even though huge investment and many invitations were made, Henry Ford never visited either of the ill-fated towns.

From the 1950s to the late 1970s, after the rights to the lands were given back, the Brazilian government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, installed a few facilities in the area. The houses that were once used by the rubber tappers of Ford were given to the families of the Ministry’s employees, whose descendants still occupy them. However, this project was short-lived. The city was nearly completely abandoned upon reaching its end.

The Renaissance of Fordlandia

There were only 90 people that were left living in the town until the latter half of the first decade of the 21st century. There were no available basic services in the area, and medical help only came by boat at long intervals. But that changed when people who are looking for places to live decided to go back into the town and claimed houses. As of 2017, the town is now a district of Aveiro, and there are about 3,000 people living there.

Conclusion

The story of Fordlandia is quite depressing, but in the present time, it’s a fascinating and unique place to visit. It is perfect for those looking for a place that’s off the beaten track. However, it is only accessible by boat from the port city of Santarem. It is a tiny, rural town with very little to do at night except relax. It is great if you want to marvel at the natural beauty of one of the strangest little towns in the world. We hope this article helped you know more about what Fordlandia was.

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