Podcast Episode 292: Fordlandia

Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1927, Henry Ford decided to build a plantation in the Amazon to supply rubber for his auto company. The result was Fordlandia, an incongruous Midwestern-style town in the tropical rainforest. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the checkered history of Ford’s curious project — and what it revealed about his vision of society.

We’ll also consider some lifesaving seagulls and puzzle over a false alarm.


In 1891, the Strand tried to notate the songs of English birds.

The third line of Gray’s Elegy can be rearranged in 11 different ways while retaining its sense.

Sources for our feature on Fordlandia:

Greg Grandin, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City, 2010.

Elizabeth D. Esch, The Color Line and the Assembly Line: Managing Race in the Ford Empire, 2018.

Stephen L. Nugent, The Rise and Fall of the Amazon Rubber Industry: An Historical Anthropology, 2017.

Tom W. Bell, Your Next Government?: From the Nation State to Stateless Nations, 2018.

Ralf Barkemeyer and Frank Figge, “Fordlândia: Corporate Citizenship or Corporate Colonialism,” Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management 19:2 (2012), 69-78.

John Galey, “Industrialist in the Wilderness: Henry Ford’s Amazon Venture,” Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs 21:2 (May 1979), 261-289.

Joseph A. Russell, “Fordlandia and Belterra, Rubber Plantations on the Tapajos River, Brazil,” Economic Geography 18:2 (April 1942), 125-145.

Mary A. Dempsey, “Henry Ford’s Amazonian Suburbia,” Americas 48:2 (March/April 1996), 44.

Nathan J. Citino, “The Global Frontier: Comparative History and the Frontier-Borderlands Approach in American Foreign Relations,” Diplomatic History 25:4 (Fall 2001), 677.

Anna Tsing, “Earth Stalked by Man,” Cambridge Journal of Anthropology 34:1 (Spring 2016), 2-16.

Bill Nasson, “Fording the Amazon,” South African Journal of Science 106:5-6 (2010), 1-2.

Simon Romero, “Deep in Brazil’s Amazon, Exploring the Ruins of Ford’s Fantasyland,” New York Times, Feb. 20, 2017.

Drew Reed, “Lost Cities #10: Fordlandia – The Failure of Henry Ford’s Utopian City in the Amazon,” Guardian, Aug. 19, 2016.

Greg Grandin, “Henry Ford’s Jungle Folly,” Sunday Telegraph, Jan. 31, 2010, 14.

Ben Macintyre, “Dearborn-on-Amazon,” New York Times, July 16, 2009.

Mary A. Dempsey, “Trailing Henry Ford in Amazon Forest,” Globe and Mail, Aug. 20, 1994, F.7.

“Brazil to Take Over Ford Rubber Lands,” Associated Press, Dec. 26, 1945.

“Brazil May Grow Rubber for U.S.,” Wilmington [N.C.] Morning Star, Feb. 19, 1942.

Thomas R. Henry, “Of Stars, Men, and Atoms,” [Washington, D.C.] Evening Star, Feb. 7, 1942.

“Fordlandia to Get Labor; Brazil Prepares to Send Men to Rubber Plantation,” New York Times, Aug. 22, 1940.

“Fordlandia Built in Brazil’s Jungle,” New York Times, Dec. 9, 1934.

“Opposition to Ford Dropped in Brazil,” New York Times, May 3, 1931.

“Ford Project Aids Amazon Progress,” [Washington, D.C.] Evening Star, June 29, 1930.

“Ford Plantation in Brazil Is Ideal,” [Washington, D.C.] Evening Star, Nov. 4, 1928.

Katie Canales, “Henry Ford Built ‘Fordlandia,’ a Utopian City Inside Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest That’s Now Abandoned — Take a Look Around,” Business Insider, Feb. 10, 2020.

“Fordlandia: The Failure of Ford’s Jungle Utopia,” All Things Considered, National Public Radio, June 6, 2009.

“Popular Research Topics: Ford Rubber Plantations in Brazil,” The Henry Ford (accessed April 5, 2020).

Listener mail:

“Hundreds of Billions of Locusts Swarm in East Africa,” BBC News, March 10, 2020.

Antoaneta Roussi, “Why Gigantic Locust Swarms Are Challenging Governments and Researchers,” Nature, March 12, 2020.

Kaamil Ahmed, “Locust Crisis Poses a Danger to Millions, Forecasters Warn,” Guardian, March 20, 2020.

Rodney Muhumuza, “New, Larger Wave of Locusts Threatens Millions in Africa,” Associated Press, April 10, 2020.

“China Will Not Send Ducks to Tackle Locusts in Pakistan, Says Expert,” Guardian, Feb. 27, 2020.

Kate Ng, “Army of 100,000 Ducks Deployed to Combat Locust Infestation,” Independent, Feb. 27, 2020.

“China May Send Ducks to Battle Pakistan’s Locust Swarms,” BBC News, Feb. 27, 2020.

Katherine J. Wu, “Is a Duck Army Coming for Pakistan’s Locusts? Not So Fast,” Smithsonian, Feb. 28, 2020.

Wikipedia, “Seagull Monument” (accessed April 6, 2020).

Wikipedia, “Miracle of the Gulls” (accessed April 6, 2020).

Ryan Cunningham, “A Seagull Story,” Salt Lake City Weekly, Feb. 15, 2017.

Trent Toone, “Was the ‘Miracle of the Gulls’ Exaggerated? LDS Historians Explain,” LDS Living, July 23, 2018.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Florian, who sent these corroborating links (warning — these spoil the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Google Podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, or via the RSS feed at https://futilitycloset.libsyn.com/rss.

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!