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Fordlandia
Guest Column by GeoT

Dateline: 06/08/00

Ford. F-O-R-D. "Fix Or Repair Daily," "Found On Road Dead" or perhaps, "First On Race Day!"

Ford. Henry Ford. Born in 1863 in Wayne County, Michigan, and his legend remains well past his death in 1947. Henry Ford was many things, not the least of which was, a very curious and creative youngster. Now, before you question what this has to do with geography, or why, of all people, Matt would ask me to do an article (the latter could be of some relevance!) ­ allow me to link this together.

Henry Ford was raised on a farm; farming was a forceful preoccupation in Henry's mind - how to make things easier - and better. Accompanying his father on an occasional trip to Detroit and the machine shops there was a favorite thing for Henry to do. Once, a machinist gave Henry a simple piece of metal tubing with the challenge ‘to make something of it' by the time of his next visit. Now, what would most boys do with a piece of tubing? Use it as a bean shooter? A little ‘telescope'? No, Henry fashioned it into a whistle! Upon his return to the shop he played a tune for the machinist .

Henry was fascinated by all the machines in the shops he visited and wanted to know how they worked ­ he put this engineering mind to fine work. By the age of 15, Henry had built his first steam engine; in 1893 had built his own version of the internal combustion engine, and in 1896, his first automobile. In 1903 he founded the Ford Motor Company. The rest, as they say, is history ­ or is it? There is some geography here too!

Henry maintained his great interest in agriculture and particularly with soybeans in a somewhat new crop from China, which was planted not for the beans, but to replenish nitrogen in the soil for corn. Henry knew there had to be a use for those beans ­ and many of his laboratory's experiments with them proved him correct. Very correct! The United States is the leading producer of soybeans today, and Brazil is a major producer as well, but we are getting ahead of the story.

Meantime, back at the auto business, Henry was doing as much Vertical Integration as possible. He not only wanted to build the cars, he wanted control of all the resources it took to build them (here's the geography!); Ford owned iron mines, coal mines, forests (many body frame members were made of wood in those days, as well as wheels) and the ship and rail transportation systems to deliver these resources. Ford owned steel mills and even small hydroelectric plants (which powered micro-factories to make parts for the cars). Henry wanted it all. But, there was one more thing he needed and didn't have ­ rubber for the tires and other parts.

Today, as we look at a map of Brazil, we may be astonished to see a place south of the Amazon, along the Tapajos River named "Fordlandia".

This is where, from 1928 to 1946, the Ford Motor Company produced rubber. Enough for their needs? Of course not. But, Henry had to try.

Two plantations were located there, Fordlandia and the nearby Belterra. Problems with labor, the tropical heat and humidity, and disease are said to be among the reasons the American-owned plantations ultimately failed to meet their goals ­ but I understand they still operate under different management to this day. Today, Fordlandia is abandoned and replaced with the town of Brasilia Legal.

So, rubber and soybeans, the geographic axiom of "What happens in one place will affect what happens someplace else" surely applies in this case.

See this map of Fordlandia from
Maps by Expedia.com Travel
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