THE FORDLANDIA SETTLEMENT
Legendary engineer, industrialist, and crazy person Henry Ford had a bold plan to corner the rubber market and thus establish a vertical monopoly over every stage of his automotive production process: go someplace where there’s rubber, buy all the land, and essentially start a new country.
Strictly speaking this wasn’t a new idea—replace rubber with gold, silver, sugar, or tobacco and you’re describing how nearly all the countries of the New World came into being—but Ford wanted to give it a shot with the revolutionary new technologies of the 20th century and his own idealistic vision of the perfect industrial community.
Fordlandia was established near the Brazilian city of Santarem on 10,000 square kilometers of lush jungle, a small fraction of which was cleared to establish a model American town with bungalows, churches, a hospital, and a power plant. Ford’s restrictive policies (no alcohol, tobacco, or women) and a failure to understand or accommodate local weather conditions, ecological constraints, and social mores meant that the initially promising idea of a modern, industrialized rubber plantation soon collapsed amid rioting and tropical tree blight.
Ford stubbornly kept the project going until the invention and widespread adoption of synthetic rubber in 1945, effectively signaling that the settlement would never manage to recover its initial investment.