Sept. 30, 2020

Fordlandia

Fordlandia

Fordlandia! In the steaming Brazilian rainforrests, one mans dream of self sufficiency for his industrial empire is taking place.


Fordlandia! In the steaming Brazilian rainforrests, one mans dream of self sufficiency for his industrial empire is taking place.

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Transcript

In 1863, during the America civil war, the Battle of Gettysburg was fought, and in that year, a new life entered the world; he would not depart this world until the atomic age. 

Born to a farming family at Dearborn Michigan, just outside Detroit, he would never travel much further than 12 miles from his place of birth. He never liked farming, but developed a great love for all things mechanical. 

As he grew into manhood he was described as unbalanced, and eccentric.  He didn’t like doctors, bankers, Books, or reading, nor did he like liquor, tobacco, Wall St, college graduates, tall buildings, Roman Catholics or Jews. He said that sky scrapers were too heavy and that cities would collapse into themselves under their own weight. 

In 1919, he sued the Chicago Tribune for libel for calling him an ignorant idealist and an anarchist. During the court case, the nation was captivated by his apparent naivety. When asked who Benedict Arnold was, he answered, he had heard the name, and thought him to be a writer. Asked when the American Revolution was fought, he answered, 1812, followed by I think, I’m not quite sure. He had been described as an ignoramus, not a very bright or reflective human being. An enterprising young chap made a small fortune selling transcripts of his testimony outside the court house to crowds that had gathered there. It was said that he earned enough money to buy himself a house.

Within a decade, Henry Ford had 50 factories across 6 continents, employed 200,000 people and produced half of the world’s cars. He was the most successful industrialist in history, worth around $2 billion. The production lines in his plants were so efficient, that in 1913 a new car or truck was produced somewhere in America every 10 seconds. So quick, that the only paint that could dry quick enough to keep up with assembly was black. Leading to the old saying, you can have any colour as long as it is black. 

He doubled the wages of his workers to $5 per hour, and introduced the 40 hour week. Not out of benevolence, his employee turnover was 370%, his production lines were terrible places to work, and he needed to keep his workforce. 

His eccentricity shone through in some of his most unusual ideas. He began his notorious sociological department in his factories to look into, amongst other things, the lives, habits, hygiene, religion and personal finances of his workforce. He wanted to ensure that his employees were living a good clean moral life. 

He was fascinated with Soya beans, he wore suits made of soya bean fibre, and even attempted to build a car from plastics made from soya bean, but he could never get rid of the smell, and the idea was discarded.  So captivated was he with his soya bean projects, that he named his only son after the head of the research department.

He even bought a failing newspaper, The Dearborn Independent and turned it into his personal pedestal to share his own particular beliefs, it was notoriously dull. His independent, often attacked Jews for manipulating the stock market, working to overthrow Christianity, using Hollywood for propaganda, and promoting jazz.

He was, however admired by one powerful world leader. Adolf Hitler admired him and it is said that he even had a framed photograph of him on his wall; he was the only American to be mentioned favourably in Mein Kampf.

Never one to be reliant upon suppliers who could control the supply chain, he bought coal and iron ore mines, forests and timber mills. He owned the Detroit, Toledo & Iron town railroad as well as a fleet of ships. When he began manufacturing his own windshields, he became the world second largest manufacturer of glass. By the 1920s, he was the single biggest user of rubber on the planet. In 1927, the British had a monopoly on rubber, grown in their colonies in Malaya, Singapore & Sumatra. The British got their start in the rubber business when in 1875, an English explorer smuggled seeds out of Brazil &sold them to the Royal Botanic Gardens. 

Undaunted, and damned if he would be held to the British monopoly, in 1927 he embarked upon what would become his most costly and eccentric idea yet Fordlandia. He planned to create his own model American community in the Brazilian rainforest. His plan was to create a massive rubber plantation that would make his business self-sufficient in rubber.  The plan was to re- create a model American community in the jungles of Brazil. The Brazilian government was desperate to get back on top in the rubber business, and so offer him 2.5 million hectares of rainforest for only $125,000. His plans included airports, schools, banks, hospitals and private railways. An autonomous state in the steaming jungle of Brazil. He wanted to create a complete town, with a central square, business district, district hospital, cinema, ballroom, golf course, and other municipal amenities. Surrounding this would be a residential area, complete with white shingle roofed cottages with lawns and flowerbeds, vegetable gardens, paved streets and Ford cars. Fordlandia, dedicated to American laws, culture and ideals.

The rubber plantation was to be the greatest agricultural operation on the planet.  Fordlandia would use the rainforests natural resources to produce paints, fertilisers, medicines and all other such useful compounds. The project was doomed before it even started. Mismanagement and blundering right from the start saw equipment arriving from the U.S. before any storage facilities could be constructed.  Supplies spoiled in the humid wet conditions, machinery rusted, theft was rampant, bags of cement went rock hard in the moist rainforest air. Prefabricated huts for the workers were sent out from the U.S. But these huts had corrugated tin roofs, okay for conditions in Detroit, but in the heat of the Brazilian jungle the huts turned into ovens.

 Deforestation for the planting of the rubber trees had catastrophic effects on the ecosystem. Shaded waterways, now exposed to direct sunlight grew masses of algal blooms, which in turn caused the snail population to explode. The snails carried tiny parasitic worms which entered the bodies of the workers and caused violent abdominal pain, fever and diarrhoea. The toothpick fish infested the rivers, and were known to swim into any human orifice, and there, extent its spines causing immense pain. The Botfly would lay its eggs under the skin of an unsuspecting victim, where a sore would form.  The next thing a person noticed, was something wriggling under the skin, then the sore would burst open spilling out the maggots. 

During World War 2, artificial rubber was developed, and after 25 years of struggle and effort, Henry Ford pulled out of his most ambitious plan yet. Fordlandia his Amazonian dream was left to be slowly devoured by the jungles of the Brazilian rainforest. 

In one of those strange quirks of history, the land was taken over by Cargill incorporated, one of the world’s largest food producing companies where they went on to  produce Soybeans, the one product  that Henry ford revered above all others.