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In 1925, tire magnate Harvey Firestone, Ford’s oldest business partner, begged the most powerful industrialist to help him break up the British rubber cartel. Like oil today, rubber was a choke point for U.S. industry. Ford’s answer was simple: “Grow your own rubber!” Thus, the plan was hatched for Ford Motor Co. to grow its own rubber. Ford looked at the effort to establish a foothold in Brazil as a way to simultaneously inject competition into commodity markets and establish modernity in the untamed jungle. This was his chance to spread his American gospel to the darkest corners of the world.

In the middle of the wilderness, Ford spent tens of millions of dollars to drop a replica of a Midwestern town - that became its own autonomous state - complete with single-family bungalows with indoor plumbing, public schools, a modern hospital, banks, golf courses, its own police, paved streets and even fire hydrants, which at this time were not even found in most European cities. The locals called him “St. Ford” because of his vision and the wages he offered.

Man and nature conspired to ruin Ford’s dream of civilizing the Amazon. Corrupt Brazilian oligarchs drove up prices for anything that couldn’t be shipped from the United States. Leftists fomented worker revolts, which had a long history in a region long troubled by class warfare.

But the most serious trouble was that Brazil simply could not produce rubber as efficiently as Malayan forests. Although not native to Southeast Asia, rubber trees produced a much larger yield in Malaya than in their natural Brazilian habitat because their natural predators - bugs and birds - don’t exist there. In 1945, less than 20 years after being founded, Fordlandia was abandoned.

The decay and gradual disappearance of Henry Ford’s jungle city now is playing out in major urban centers all across America’s industrial Midwest. Detroit, once one of the world’s richest cities and the homeownership capital of the world, is becoming a ghost town like Fordlandia.

Brett M. Decker, managing editor for the Opinion Pages at The Washington Times, is a former assembly-line worker for Ford Motor Co.