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Fordlândia – the Abandoned Town in the Jungle Created by Henry Ford

Nikola Petrovski
Photo credit: RodrigoCruzatti CC BY 4.0
Photo credit: RodrigoCruzatti CC BY 4.0

In the Brazilian state of Pará, inside the city of Aveiro, one can find a district named Fordlândia. If that name happens to ring a bell, that is because it was established by Henry Ford, the famous automobile manufacturer.

Ford’s mission was to create a prefabricated industrial town intended to be the home of some 10,000 people and to secure a source of cultivated rubber for the automobile manufacturing operations of the Ford Motor Company and by extension the United States.

House from the village of Fordlandia. Author: Méduse CC BY-SA 3.0 

House from the village of Fordlandia. Author: Méduse CC BY-SA 3.0 

That’s one tough mission, but Henry had it all covered. He made a deal with the Brazilian Government to give him 6000 square miles of land on the banks of the Rio Tapajós in exchange for 9% of the profits generated.

Sometimes things just don’t go as planned, even for big manufacturers like Henry Ford, and Fordlândia met its end in 1934 just six years after it was first opened in 1928.

Outside the windows of an abandoned house. Author: Mélété CC BY-SA 3.0

Outside the windows of an abandoned house. Author: Mélété CC BY-SA 3.0

Although Fordlândia failed, the town continued to be home to some 90 residents, and as of 2017, this number had jumped to 2000. Sometime before 1928, the governor of the State of Pará, Dionísio Bentes, traveled to the United States to meet Henry Ford himself. During this meeting, Henry Ford was granted 2.5 million acres on an estate named “Boa Vista”.

The old rubber factory. Author: Méduse CC BY-SA 3.0

The old rubber factory. Author: Méduse CC BY-SA 3.0

The company Ford Industrial do Brasil started the construction in 1926. The so-called American Village was built for the managers, keeping the standard American look. Besides the houses in this village, there was a hospital, a school, a library, and a hotel.

Fordlandia hospital destroyed by looting. Author: RodrigoCruzatti CC BY 4.0

Fordlandia hospital destroyed by looting. Author: RodrigoCruzatti CC BY 4.0

But no American settlement is complete without a playground, swimming pool, and golf course, so these three were added to the list of things to be built.

In order to complete this town, Lake Ormoc and Lake Farge come to the rescue. These two merchant ships were sent by Ford, containing all of the necessities, from doorknobs to the water tower. This is how Fordlândia came into existence deep inside the Brazilian rainforest.

Water tower and main warehouse building. Author: (WT-shared) CC BY-SA 3.0

Water tower and main warehouse building. Author: (WT-shared) CC BY-SA 3.0

When it comes to native Brazilians, there is one thing that they keep sacred, and that is food. They had no problems with the rest of the American elements, but when the food came into question they had to do something about it. In 1930, their patience crossed the threshold, and the native workers started to harass the cook and the managers, demanding better food.

Due to difficult conditions for growing rubber, the whole project was soon relocated some 40km south of the city of Santarém, where better conditions existed.

Latex collected from a tree to make a natural rubber. Author: PRA CC BY-SA 3.0

Latex collected from a tree to make a natural rubber. Author: PRA CC BY-SA 3.0

The Ford Company left Fordlândia in 1934. By 1945, synthetic rubber had been invented, making this second town a failure.

Rubber tree plantation. Author: 松岡明芳 CC BY-SA 3.0 

Rubber tree plantation. Author: 松岡明芳 CC BY-SA 3.0 

This town was also abandoned and later sold by Henry Ford’s grandson, Henry Ford II, resulting in a total loss of $208 million.