Henry Ford's Failed Utopia

By | August 2, 2019

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Ruins of Fordlandia. Source: (gettyimages.com)

In the early 20th century, British plantations in Sri Lanka had cornered the rubber market. This, curiously enough, propelled the automobile innovator and magnate Henry Ford to attempt to establish a settlement in the Amazon. This plantation, called Fordlandia, was based on Ford’s vision of the American dream and his conviction that those principles that made the Ford Motor Company such a success would create a utopian model for all societies.

Spoiler: It was an utter failure.

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Henry Ford and His Son Edsel with the Model A. Source: (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)


The Ford Motor Company produced millions of cars and each of those cars needed rubber tires. This was driving up the costs of his new Model A which went into production in 1927. To reduce the expense, Ford decided that his company would do much better by producing its own rubber. He decided that the best way to do this was to establish a plantation in South America.

By 1927, Ford negotiated a deal with the Brazilian government and was given a 5,625 square mile area of land along the Amazon River. In this way, Ford could bypass the British rubber monopoly. He was given carte blanche on how to run his plantation. The economics were logical, but Ford also had a larger vision.