Monday, January 13, 2014


A is for Amazon.  When I was growing up if someone talked about Amazon they were referring to the river in South America, or a nation of all female warriors in Greek mythology.  Today, if Amazon pops up in a conversation it will most likely be in reference to the world's largest ecommerce retailer.

The company currently employs more than 43,200 people in 18 U.S. states and 14 international locations. Its headquarters are in Seattle, Washington.  Amazon's goal is to become the world's most customer-centric company where people can find and discover anything they want to buy online.

I am an Amazon customer.  The problem with Amazon is that they make it just too easy to spend your money.  Cd's, movies, books, printer ink, cameras, etc, etc.  Just about anything I could want I can buy on Amazon.  

My favorite Amazon product is my Kindle.  I have been a Kindle reader since I purchased my Kindle in 2010.  You can read about my first thoughts about my Kindle here.  

I love reading about history and my Kindle has made it so easy to find books on topics that interest me.  One of the books that I found combined my love of history with my interest in automobiles, and was set in the Amazon.  It was the book, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin.  

In the 1920's Ford Motor Company was producing over a million cars a year. Henry Ford needed rubber to make tires, hoses and other parts for the cars. Rubber does not grow in Michigan, and European producers enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the rubber trade because of their Asian colonies. So Henry decided to grow his own. In 1927 he decided to get it by carving a plantation and a miniature Midwest factory town out of the Amazon jungle. He called it Fordlandia.

The site chosen for Ford’s new rubber plantation was an area of some 2.5 million acres on the banks of the Tapajós River, a tributary of the Amazon about 600 miles from the Atlantic. It took Ford’s agents approximately 18 hours to reach the place by riverboat from the nearest town. Ford’s vision was a replica Midwestern town, with modern plumbing, hospitals, schools, sidewalks, tennis courts and even a golf course. There would be no drink or other forms of immorality, but gardening for all and chaste dances every week.

Ford tried to use his knowledge of mass industrial production on the diversity of the jungle. But the Amazon is one of the most complex ecological systems in the world — and didn't fit into Ford's plan. Ford was so distrustful of experts that he never even consulted one about rubber trees. If he had he would have learned that plantation rubber can't be grown in the Amazon. The pests and the fungi and the blight that feed off of rubber are native to the Amazon. Basically, when you put trees close together in the Amazon, what you in effect do is create a feast for the pests. The Fordlandia plantation actually accelerated the production of caterpillars, leaf blight and other organisms that prey on rubber.

Just like the rubber plantation didn't work, neither did Henry's idea of creating a utopian society in the middle of the jungle.  Although he built nice homes for the workers and built modern schools, his work force was never happy.  There was tremendous turnover.  He didn’t like drinking, so he prohibited alcohol.  He tried to regulate the diet of Brazilian workers. He had very rigid thoughts on healthy food, so he had them eating whole rice and whole wheat bread and canned Michigan peaches and oatmeal. There were riots over the food.  He also tried to regulate their recreational time. He introduced square dancing to replace the samba.

The Brazilian workers resisted the heavy attempt to regulate every aspect of their lives, not just the industrial regime, but also their diet, their sanitation and medical regulation. And during one riot in particular, they smashed all the time clocks.

Ford spent about a billion dollars, in inflation-adjusted dollars, on this project, and not one drop of latex made it into a Ford car. It was an absolute failure. In 1945 it was sold to the Brazilian government for $244,200.

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  1. Wow, that was really fascinating. I had no idea Henry Ford attempted something like this! My mother worked for a rubber/chemical plant in Baton Rouge and it finally ceased to exist just last week. They had a high incidence of Parkinson's Disease which my mother also had. Anyway, very interesting piece about the history of Ford, his failed utopia, and his attempts at growing rubber.

  2. You've gotten ALL the Amazons covered!

  3. Now that's fascinating.
    I had never heard of Ford's attempt and the town.
    You have peaked my interest. I may have to read that story.

  4. You are right that they make it easy to spend, but if you're careful, you can get some great deals - like the watch I got for Lorne's birthday 2 years ago.

    abcw team

  5. What a long way from Amazon to Amazon ! I am also very happy with my Kindle HD, and to be able to have so many books to read, it's so practical !

  6. First of all I LOVED your comment about plugging in the wooden blocks on my post---tooooo clever. I've never heard of the story about Henry Ford--so interesting for sure. Amazon is truly a phenomenal way to shop, my Son and his family make wish lists around the holidays for me and I never am without ideas for Christmas gifts!!!!

  7. Great post! I had no idea that Ford tried and failed at Rubber production farming, thanks for the history!

  8. A great post, Richard!
    Thank you for your nice comment on my blog:)

  9. Yay for kindle. Ever since I got my kindle app, I've been reading a lot. Thanks for visiting my blog.