Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Henry Ford's Heroic Failure

Henry Ford - 1919

Entrepreneur extraordinaire Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, was prone to ingenious ideas and wasn't shy to drive them forward. Ford had a tremendous ability to think out of the box and to turn his dreams into reality. He's sterling legacy was however marred by his unwavering belief in an absurdly large scale construction project called Fordlândia, which was destined to fail from the outset.

Believing he could transplant American culture and industry into the Brazilian jungle, in 1929 Ford began construction of the town of Fordlândia, located in the Amazon rainforest. The objective was to get closer to the raw materials he required while crippling the rubber barons who controlled these supplies.

Ford had negotiated a deal with the Brazilian government granting his newly formed Companhia Industrial do Brasil a concession of 10,000 km² of land, in exchange for a 9% interest in the profits generated. 

Fordlândia was designed to be a beacon of Prohibition-era American culture, a Disneyland of sorts, with factories shaping the landscape. What Ford did not anticipate was the malaria-carrying mosquitoes, hot weather and hostility, between American and Brazilian workers.
Not employing the services of an expert botanist proved to be the project's biggest failing. The topsoil, exposed by aggressive land clearance quickly disappeared, leaving overcrowded rubber saplings to starve and die in impossibly poor soil. They also became susceptible to fungal infestation.

Ford forbade alcohol, women and tobacco within the town, including inside the workers' own homes. The inhabitants circumvented this prohibition by paddling out to merchant riverboats moored beyond town jurisdiction and a settlement was established five miles upstream on the "Island of Innocence" with bars, nightclubs and brothels.

Ford changed tack and relocated downstream to Belterra, where better weather conditions for the growing of rubber existed. By 1945, after the advent of synthetic rubber, the world demand for natural rubber ceased to exist and Ford's investment opportunity dried up virtually overnight, without ever having produced for Ford motor-vehicle tyres.

Today, Fordlândia is a spooky, American-style mirror world decaying in the jungle.


Ernest Roper
Membership Services manager


Monday, October 7, 2013

America's Secret City of the 40's

The annals of history tell of an extraordinary development which commenced in late 1942 that involved thousands of people who had no inclination as to what it was they were contributing towards.  The United States Army Corps of Engineers purchased 59,000 acres of countryside northwest of Knoxville, Tennessee, for purposes of development. To put it into perspective, it was enough land to build four cities the size of Manhattan on it. 

Three massive facilities were built of which one was deemed to be the largest building in the world at the time.

75,000 people flooded in and began work which brought with it housing developments that facilitated the growth of a town that would later become Oak Ridge. During the war years the mass number of jobs it created must have seemed exceedingly positive, yet nobody knew exactly what the purpose of the facility was, including the bulk of those who worked there.

All designations were on a need to know bases and workers were limited to their specific function. If for example your job was to manufacture washers, you were expected to produce washers and not ask questions beyond that. At the time the town didn't appear on any maps either.

In less than four years, the Army engineers had built nearly 10,000 homes, 90 two-story dormitories, 5,000 trailers, barracks and huts for 16,000 people, a dozen shopping centres, nine schools, two chapels and the nation's ninth-largest bus system.

The manner in which the world eventually learn of its secret was through the mass media in the wake of the atomic bombs, dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The facility was indeed the birth place the atomic bomb (home to the Manhattan Project) and posters that donned the facility at the time read: "What you see here, what you do here, what you hear here, when you leave here, let it stay here." 

Image: (Wikipedia) Workers leaving the Manhattan Project's Y-12 plant at shift changing time, 1945 (US government photo by Ed Westcott)

Ernest Roper
Membership Services  Manager