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Book chronicles Ford’s jungle city

By Erin Conroy

Associated Press

Deep in the Amazon rainforest are the ruins of what was once meant to be a Midwestern American utopia, complete with white picket fences, hamburgers and movie theaters. But now "Fordlandia" is overrun with weeds, a city Henry Ford long ago abandoned.

The father of Ford Motor Co., now arguably the healthiest of the Detroit Three, had once seized what he thought was an opportunity to eliminate a dependence on British rubber for tires. In 1927, he purchased land in the Brazilian Amazon that was the size of the state of Tennessee, and set out to grow it himself.

But the project quickly evolved into a more ambitious bid to create an exported American suburb to echo Ford’s values, says Greg Grandin, author of the recently published book "Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City."

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"Similar to today, everything in the world was bound up in the auto industry," Grandin said. "Ford has always been a symbol for America, and Henry Ford wanted to impose a Ford-style puritanism that was eventually defeated."

Fordlandia once had manicured lawns, ice cream parlors, and, of course, Model T’s rolling down its Main Street. But almost two decades and tens of millions of dollars later, the project was abandoned as tree blight and insects destroyed the rubber plantations, while the invention of synthetic rubber ended worldwide demand for the natural resource.

"Most don’t realize or would even imagine that Ford, the symbol of America, was defeated by the storied Amazon after trying to impose small-town virtues," Grandin said. "It’s such a rich part of the company’s history."

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