In his book "Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City," author Greg Grandin chronicles Henry Ford’s great attempt to create a vast rubber plantation and idyllic company town in the complex ecosystem of the Amazon rainforest. The story Grandin tells is not just one of Ford’s industrial and sociological experiment, but of the difficulties of exporting American ideals and lifestyles to an inadequately understood place.
Early in the book, Grandin introduces readers to Henry Ford’s ambitions, eccentricities, and values, including his pacifist ideals, his support of soybean production over cattle, and his vision of molding upstanding men. Ford envisioned factory towns with orderly urban planning centered around a town square, where industry and agriculture worked in tandem. He imagined well-kept homes and tidy gardens, all inhabited by residents who worked in efficient factories for part of the year and tended to agriculture in other times. He believed that with respectable wages and a wholesome environment, he could shape a society of responsible, dignified citizens.
Ford’s increasing obsession with this vision resulted in many projects such as logging camps in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Greenfield Village in Dearborn, and in 1928, Fordlandia in the Brazilian Amazon. Grandin recounts the history of Fordlandia through a riveting story full of colorful, imperfect characters. He leads the reader through events such as the shady acquisition of land, the difficulties of planting and harvesting high-yield rubber trees, the imposition of civic education and recreation wholly out of context with the natives, and the ultimate failure of Fordlandia.
In telling the story of what has now become a ghost city, Grandin highlights the Amazon’s enormity - unconquerable by one man’s careful design. "Fordlandia" demonstrates Henry Ford’s arrogance in his belief that he could tame the Amazon. It is a vivid illustration that ideal cities and virtuous societies cannot be achieved by a singular vision.
Are there examples of modern ruins in your community? Are there areas that have been abandoned like Fordlandia has been? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.
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Credits: Photos by Jessica Yoon and Creative Commons Wikipedia. Data linked to sources. Updated December 5, 2017.
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