Thursday, February 11, 2010

From today's Telegraph (U.K), comes a story that hits a little too close to home...

Fordlandia extract

Stifling heat, deadly snakes, staff riots...In an extract from his new book, Greg Grandin explains why Henry Ford's utopian vision of a Midwestern town in the depths of the Amazon was doomed from the start


January 9 1928: Henry Ford was in a spirited mood as he toured the Ford Industrial Exhibit with his son, Edsel, and his ageing friend Thomas Edison, feigning fright at the flash of news cameras as a circle of police officers held back admirers and reporters.

The event was held in New York, to showcase the new Model A. Amid all the excitement over the new car, most barely noted that the Ford Motor Company had recently acquired an enormous land concession in the Amazon. The property was to be used to grow rubber.

Latex was the one important natural resource that Ford didn't control, even though his New York exhibit included a model of a rubber plantation. Edsel announced in the official press release about the acquisition that work would begin immediately.

It would include building a town and launching a 'widespread sanitary campaign against the dangers of the jungle', he said. It was to be called 'Fordlandia'.

About 10 per cent of the world's five to 10 million species are found in the Amazon and there are, as one observer puts it, more 'species of lichens, liverworts, mosses and algae growing on the upper surface of a single leaf of an Amazonian palm than there are on the entire continent of Antarctica'.

The region is home to 2,500 kinds of fish, about an equal number of birds, 50,000 plants and an incalculable number of invertebrates.

And it is a temptress: its chroniclers cannot seem to resist invoking the jungle not as an ecological system but as a metaphysical testing ground, a place that seduces man to impose his will, only to expose that will as impotent. Nineteenth and early 20th-century explorers and missionaries often portrayed the jungle either as evil inherent or as revealing the evil that men carry inside.

But Henry Ford, along with the men and women he sent down to build his settlement, proved tone-deaf to this. He saw the jungle as a challenge, but it had less to do with dominating nature than it did with salvaging a vision of Americana that was slipping out of his grasp at home.

For Ford, now in his sixties, the Amazon offered a fresh start in a place he imagined to be uncorrupted by unions, politicians, Jews, lawyers, militarists and New York bankers.

Many people in Brazil believed that Ford's arrival meant the salvation of the Amazon. A Ford car was a cultural symbol the world over, weighted with meaning and familiar to even those who existed on the margins of survival, even if they lived in a place like the Tapajós River valley.

'Now I am finally going to learn how to drive,' was one rubber tapper's response to the news that Ford was starting a rubber plantation there.

Read the entire article here.