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Old 11-15-2006, 12:41 PM
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Fordlandia

DamnInteresting.com has a cool piece on Fordlandia, Henry Ford's attempt to establish a rubber-manufacturing facility in Brazil. It's also probably one of the first examples of major American outsourcing.

Before the invention of synthetic rubber, the only source for tire rubber was the rubber tree, and the only source for rubber trees was the Amazon rainforest. In the late 1800's, entrepreneurs smuggled rubber tree seeds out of Brazil, and established rubber tree plantations in East Asia, effectively dominating the global rubber market.

So, Ford attempted to create the world's largest rubber plantation, in the Brazilian rainforest. His ambitious plan failed spectacularly.

Ford purchased 25,000 square kilometers in Brazil, and began to build his rubber plantation. It developed into a mini-America, with clapboard houses, a modern hospital, hotel, library, power plant -- even a golf course.

Dubbed "Fordlandia", it was staffed by some American Ford employees, but mainly by indigenous workers. They were paid twice the local rate (37 cents/day).

The problem was that Ford wanted to propagate not only rubber trees, but the "healthy" American way of life. This did not sit well with the local Brazilian workers. For example, the Brazilian workers were required to attend "healthy American" festivals, such as square-dancing and sing-alongs. They were fed American food, in American-style cafeterias. Drinking and smoking was forbidden, even inside workers' homes.

After about a year, a dispute broke out in the workers' cafeteria, over anger with Ford's "healthy lifestyle" restrictions. The dispute quickly escalated into a full-blown violent riot. Ford's American management employees fled the area. Some escaped on foot to the Brazilian jungle, and some by boat. 3 days later, the Brazilian army would intervene to break up the riot.

This was further exacerbated by the fact that Ford's rubber trees had failed to produce a substantial yield. Ford, never one to give up, established a new plantation upstream, in Belterra. Failed again.

By 1945, synthetic rubber had been developed, and the global reliance on the rubber tree had ended. Total losses were $20 million, which is estimated to be about $200 million by today's standards.

More info:

DamnInteresting.com on Fordlandia
Michigan History Magazine on Fordlandia
Wikipedia on Fordlandia
Rubber Tree
Synthetic Rubber

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Last edited by Jon; 11-15-2006 at 07:59 PM. Reason: Clarity
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Old 11-15-2006, 07:02 PM
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Jon.It is true.I am down here.The town is still there with the same name.The Ford factory in Sao Paulo was a success though.Since the 20's building cars.
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Old 11-15-2006, 07:08 PM
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Thanks for the story Jon and Paulo 1 for verifying.That,s some Interesting trivia.
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