Although Henry Ford was one of America’s most successful businessmen, building a brand-new city in Brazil proved even beyond his amazing talents

John Millen |

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Voice 1:   Henry Ford was born on a farm in the rural town of Greenfield in the US state of Michigan, in 1863. Even though Henry’s father expected him to take over the family farm, the ambitious boy had bigger plans for himself. When Henry Ford died at the age of 84 in 1947, he was one of the most successful American businessmen of the 20th century.

Voice 2:    Henry Ford left the family farm when he was 16 and worked as an apprentice machine operator in the city of Detroit and was quickly promoted to apprentice engineer.  He became a chief engineer in his late twenties, and founded the Ford Motor Company ten years later.

Voice 1:    Ford became one of the richest people in the world. The Ford Company was the first motor company to develop and manufacture  a mass produced vehicle, the Model T, the most influential car of the 20th century .

Voice 2:    This was made possible because of the mass-production system Ford created. This allowed his company to  manufacture the popular Model T in large numbers, making it affordable to middle-class American families.  

Voice 1:    Ford was also a businessman who insisted that all his workers were paid a fair       wage and given good working conditions.   He believed strongly in treating them fairly and with respect. 

Voice 2:    In the late 1920s, Ford came up with the idea to build Fordlandia, a brand-new city and factory complex where his workers would enjoy a high standard of living and excellent working conditions.  The city would have modern factories, houses, hospitals and schools. 

Voice 1:    Ford chose a site in northern Brazil for his city. It was perfect for growing the rubber trees that would provide rubber for the company’s car tires.

Voice 2:    He also hired America’s best architects to draw up plans for Fordlandia, and construction of the city’s streets and the first buildings began in 1929. However, the project was plagued with one problem after another.

Voice 1:    Clearing the Amazon jungle was hard work, and despite Ford’s famously high wages, labour of the kind needed for the project was in short supply. Also, fighting was common among construction workers.

Voice 2:    To add to the problems, the thousands of young rubber trees Ford planted could not adapt to the environment and died. The tycoon was eventually forced to make one of the biggest business decisions of his career.       

Voice 1:    In 1934, five years after building had begun, the Ford Company abandoned Fordlandia, and in 1945, Henry Ford's grandson Henry Ford II sold the area to the Brazilian government for a loss of over US$20 million. 

Voice 2:    The ruins of Fordlandia’s roads and first buildings can still be seen in the jungle of northern Brazil today, a sad reminder of the city that never was.