The Null Device

Michigan on the Amazon

In the 1930s, Henry Ford built two planned towns in Brazil, to support rubber plantations; the towns were modelled on Michigan, all white picket fences and neat, American-style suburban sidewalks (in fact, they looked not unlike some place in Queensland). As well as harnessing Brazil's rubber resources, the project attempted to instill Anglo-American/Fordian values in their residents; in return for better pay, the residents had to work US-style hours, eat American-style food in self-service cafeterias (the last point causing a riot at one stage) and attend compulsory square-dancing social events.
Fenced in by jungle, Fordlandia was transformed into a modern suburb with rows of snug bungalows fed by power lines running to a diesel generator. The main street was paved and its residents collected well water from spigots in front of their homes--except for the U.S. staff and white-collar Brazilians, who had running water in their homes. The North Americans splashed in their outdoor swimming pool and the Brazilians escaped the sun by sliding into another pool designated for their use.
Generally, the company-imposed routine met hit-and-miss compliance. Children wore uniforms to school and workers responded favorably to suggestions they grow their own vegetables. But most ignored Ford's no liquor rule and, on paydays, boats filled with potent cachaca--the local sugar-can brew--pulled up at the dock. Poetry readings, weekend dances and English sing-alongs were among the disputed cultural activities.
Former Kalamazoo sheriff Curtis Pringle, a manager at Belterra, boosted labor relations when he eased off the Dearborn-style routine and deferred to local customs, especially when it came to meals and entertainment. Under Pringle, Belterra buildings did not contain the glass that made the powerhouse at Fordlandia unbearably hot, and weekend square dancing was optional. Alexander said Henry Ford balked at building a Catholic church at Fordlandia--even though Catholicism was the predominant Christian religion in Brazil. The Catholic chapel was erected right away at Belterra.
The project was unsuccessful; humidity and malaria made life there unpleasant, rubber yields were low, and for some reason, the locals didn't see the inherent superiority of Anglo-American culture and stubbornly stuck to their customs, in defiance of the local authorities' best efforts. Ultimately, the project was sold to the Brazilian government, which has been stuck with the burden of keeping it from falling down ever since, and struggled to find uses for a transplanted piece of Michigan on the Amazon.

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