Fordlandia: A Modern Industrial Ruin in The Heart of Amazon

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This photograph of men standing in shirtless bodies, surrounded by the long leaves of the jungle fauna, and a thatched hut behind, was captured in a remote jungle in Brazilian Amazon. The year was 1934, and these were Henry Ford’s men. Six years earlier, the American industrialist had launched a massive operation in order to break free of the stranglehold the Asian rubber importers had on him and his industry. He had picked a location on banks of river Tapajos, hired a workforce and razed vast stretches of Amazon land to start a rubber plantation. But Ford’s dreams were much grander. He wanted to build a utopic community that was to serve as a double experiment in business and civilization. Unfortunately, Ford was only a businessman. By the time this photograph was taken, his dream was already breaking apart.


Photo credit: Greg Grandin

Henry Ford had rigid ideas of what a utopia was to be. Being a quintessential American, that meant eating American food, living in American-style houses, attending poetry sessions and engaging in regular square dances where only English songs are played. He began to impose these imported ideas on food and lifestyle on the populace working there —things they were not accustomed to. The most irksome of his rules was the prohibition of alcohol, tobacco and even women and families. Denied of these simple pleasures, Forlandians would often sneak away to a nearby settlement that they called ‘Island of Innocence’, which was filled with nightclubs, bars and brothels.

As often seen from history, the signs of an impending disaster are seeded in the exhibition of arrogance. Ford disliked experts and what followed was a going ahead with detailed plans and execution of Fordlandia without any real scientific and ultimately business considerations. His plants withered, plagued by blight and other diseases, and troubled by alien culture, the workers rebelled culminating in a revolt that had to be smothered with the help of Brazillian army in 1930. The resultant disaster that Fordlandia today is an abandoned landscape full of well-intentioned but pointless waste of human energy and resources, both natural and financial. This would later cost Ford’s grandson Henry Ford II, a total loss of 20 million dollars in 1945 on its sale back to the Brazilian government.

Built with the vision to last, Fordlandia had all the amenities of a modern American town including a golf course, a full-fledged hospital, a large powerhouse and a hotel. One can now visit these crumbling concrete erections which still stand as monuments to failure and serve as aesthetically appealing whereabouts for contemporary photography.

After his failures, Ford tried relocating downstream, but a misplaced endeavour that it was, the entire operation was brought to a close with production of synthetic rubber in the world by 1945.

A strange fact of this ill fated industrial misadventure was that its Creator, Ford never even visited what was to be his version of utopia, and neither was there to be any rubber from Fordlandia to tire the wheels of the Ford Cars of America.


Aerial image of Fordlandia in 1934. Photo credit:


Fordlandia's Riverside Avenue near the Tapajós River. Photo credit: Greg Grandin


Rubber Tree Plants in the nursery, 1935. Photo credit:


Fordlandia in 2009. Photo credit: Guido D´Elia Otero/Flickr


Fordlandia in 2009. Photo credit: Guido D´Elia Otero/Flickr


Water tower and other building in Fordlandia. Photo credit: Amit Evron/Wikimedia


Photo credit: Méduse/Wikimedia


Ruins of Fordlandia's powerhouse. Photo credit: Greg Grandin


Ruins of the sawmill at Iron Mountain. Photo credit: Greg Grandin

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