Abandoned in the rainforest: Henry Ford’s Fordlandia was to be inhabited by 10,000 people to secure a source of cultivated rubber for his cars

Fordlândia is the name given to a district and its surrounding region in the Brazilian city of Aveiro, in the state of Pará. It is situated on the east bank of the Tapajós River, approximately 300 kilometers south of Santarém.

It was founded in 1928 in the Amazon Rainforest by American businessman Henry Ford as a prefabricated industrial town meant to house 10,000 people.

To enable Ford to secure a source of farmed rubber for the Ford Motor Company’s automotive manufacturing activities in the United States.

In exchange for a 9% share of the income generated, Ford arranged a contract with the Brazilian government that granted him a concession of 3,900 square kilometers of land on the banks of the Rio Tapajós near the city of Santarém, Brazil.

Ford’s concept eventually failed, and the city was abandoned in 1934.
The town was virtually desolate, with about 90 individuals remaining until the late 2000s, when it witnessed an upsurge in population, with over 2,000 people living there as of 2015.


In the 1920s, the Ford Motor Company attempted to avoid the British monopoly on the supply of rubber, which was primarily used to make tires and other automotive parts.

Henry Ford sought for alternatives and a permanent location to develop a rubber colony. Central America was first considered.

However, knowledge regarding rubber trees in the Amazon was discovered, which, combined with other circumstances, resulted in a change of plans.


Negotiations between the Brazilian government began when Dionsio Bentes, then-governor of the state of Pará, arrived to the United States to see Henry Ford. An arrangement was reached and the American businessman obtained an area of around 2.5 million acres called “Boa Vista”.

The deal protected Ford from paying taxes on items exported from Brazil in exchange for 9% of earnings.

Work on the region began in 1926 by the business known as Companhia Ford Industrial do Brasil, but it was quickly hampered by inadequate logistics and illnesses that plagued the employees, who died from yellow fever and malaria.

Because there were no roads in the region, only the Tapajós river provided access.

The site was built as a planned community, with various portions of the city designated for Brazilian employees and American management, who resided in the so-called American Village.

A hospital, school, library, and hotel were erected, as well as typical American dwellings. There was also a swimming pool, a playground, and even a golf course in town.


The Ford Motor Company delivered two merchant ships, Lake Ormoc and Lake Farge, laden with everything the community could need, from door knobs to the town’s Water tower, in 1928. Fordlândia was the name given to the town at the time.
Several offices seeking labor were created in the cities of Belém and Manaus, and with the promise of decent earnings, individuals from neighboring states responded.

The latex is concentrated in the lowest sections of the tree at lower temperatures; when the temperature increases during the day, the latex spreads throughout the tree, making tapping less efficient.

As a result, the usual rubber tapper’s voyage began early in the morning, at 5 a.m., and ended around midday.

To prevent employees from tapping the same trees again, the plantation was separated into regions and each worker was assigned to a distinct area.

The management enforced a stringent set of regulations on the town. Alcohol, women, cigarettes, and even football were prohibited throughout the village, even the employees’ own houses.

Inspectors would travel from house to house, inspecting the organization and enforcing the regulations.

The residents got around these restrictions by paddling out to commercial riverboats anchored beyond municipal authority, frequently concealing illegal items inside fruits such as watermelons.

On the “Island of Innocence,” 5 miles upstream, a tiny village with bars, nightclubs, and brothels was developed.
The country was mountainous, rocky, and barren.

None of Ford’s executives were familiar with tropical agriculture.

Rubber trees grow apart in the nature as a defense strategy against plagues and illnesses, typically growing adjacent to larger trees of other species for increased support.

However, in Fordlândia, the trees were planted tightly together, making them easy prey for tree blight, sauva ants, lace bugs, red spiders, and leaf caterpillars.

Workers on the plantations were fed strange foods like hamburgers and canned food and were forced to live in American-style homes.

Most resented how they were handled, including having to wear ID badges and working in the heat of the day in the tropical sun – and would frequently refuse to work.


Native employees protested at the town cafeteria in 1930, fed up with American cuisine. This was dubbed the Breaking Pans.

The rebels then cut the telegraph cables and pursued the managers and even the town’s cook into the forest for a few days before the Brazilian Army came and put an end to the insurrection. The sort of food supplied to the workers was then agreed upon.


The Brazilian government was wary of any foreign investment, particularly in the northern Amazonian region, and provided minimal assistance. It wasn’t long before the project’s various troubles began to take their toll, and the decision was taken to relocate.

The Ford Company eventually abandoned Fordlândia in 1934, and the project was shifted downstream to Belterra, 28 miles south of Santarém.

Where superior growing conditions existed, yet synthetic rubber had been produced by 1945, lowering global need for natural rubber.

Ford’s investment opportunity vanished overnight, with no rubber for Ford’s tires produced, and the second town was likewise abandoned.

Henry Ford’s grandson, Henry Ford II, surrendered the region including both towns to the Brazilian government in 1945 for a loss of more than US$20 million ($208 million in 2013 currency).

Despite his substantial investment and several invites, Henry Ford never visited either of his doomed cities.

Water tower and other building in Fordlandia, Brazil. source

After regaining ownership of the grounds, the Brazilian government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, built many facilities in the region between the 1950s and the late 1970s.

The houses that originally belonged to Ford’s rubber tappers were eventually handed to the families of Ministry employees, some of whom still live there now.

Approximately 90 people lived in the village until the later half of the 2000s.

There were no basic amenities available in the region, and medical assistance was only available at lengthy intervals via boat.

That changed when individuals searching for a place to reside chose to return to town, frequently claiming properties. As of 2015, the town, now an Aveiro district, was home to almost three thousand persons who sought liberation.

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