Henry Ford was a big deal in the United States, and for a time he was a big deal in Brazil, too. In the 1920s the auto tycoon bought 10,000 square kilometers of land near the mouth of the Amazon. Rubber came from the tropics, he figured, so he’d cut out the middleman and gather it himself.
That’s big thinking, but “Fordlândia” didn’t really work out. The land was rough and unfamiliar, bugs and blight ate the plants, and the natives eventually threw aside their hamburgers and drove the managers into the jungle.
Ford tried again, but by 1945 synthetic rubber had made the whole project look silly, and in the end he took a $20 million loss. That was okay with Ford, for whom active failure was better than passive dreaming. “You can’t build a reputation,” he’d say, “on what you are going to do.”