Sunday, 30 August 2015


Lensing the past giants of business and industry through the ephemera of the 1932 World’s Fair held in Chicago, JF Ptak’s Science Book Store captures the bombast and the scale of the pavilions’ instructive nature, especially for the apprentice public on the worshipful subjects of consuming and manufacture.
Before this grand showing, however, I learnt that there was another Fordlândia that predated the theme park by only a few years. Moralising industrialist and automobile manufacturer Henry Ford, wanting to avoid market volatility with the chief suppliers of natural rubber for his car tyres (the British Malay Peninsula enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the resource) purchased a huge tract of land from the Brazilian government in the Amazon Rainforest to develop a rubber tree plantation and tyre factory. True to his cult of personality, Ford provided amenable American style dormitory housing for his workers but forbade any loose behaviour, no wine, women or song, on the campus. The native workforce were not drinking the Kool-Aid however and snuck away to the Island of the Donkey Boys in the evenings. Over the years too there were several strikes and all out revolts over poor working conditions and values that the Amazon Indians did not ascribe to. Fordlândia floundered for years, plagued with dissatisfied workers and early hints at the impact of deforestation and mono-cultures that made the yield less than expected, but was finally abandoned and returned to Brazil in 1945 with the advent of cheap synthetic rubber in circa 1945 (by competitor Benjamin Franklin Goodrich under contract with General Motors) spurred by the escalation of US involvement in World War II.