The many innovations of Henry Ford, including assembly line production and living wages for its workers, made the industry magnate legendary, but not all of Ford’s gambles paid-off. Case in point: Fordlândia, the self-sufficient rain forest city that was supposed to change the automobile industry forever but instead crumbled nearly as quickly as it was built.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Ford was doing incredible business and eating up nearly three quarters of the world’s rubber supply doing it. At the time, plant-based rubber was being manufactured in Southeast Asia then shipped over to Detroit. Ford decided to take control of his rubber supply himself, so in 1927, he established his own rubber plantation on the Amazon in northern Brazil.
Ford outfitted Fordlândia with all the luxuries of American suburbia in the middle of the rainforest, including electricity, running water, swimming pools, American food and square dancing at the community center. Unfortunately, Ford soon discovered the rubber plants didn’t take to Brazil’s rainforest and, in the midst of slow production, native workers began to rebel over Ford’s strict, oddly Puritanical moral code for the city (women and alcohol weren’t allowed).
Workers began to riot and the plantations never performed as Ford anticipated, and by 1940, synthetic rubber had been invented, rendering the city pointless anyway. Ford sold the land back to Brazil at a $20 million loss (about $200 million today), leaving behind only a collection of abandoned buildings and scrap cars.