Company Towns in the Americas: Landscape, Power, and Working-Class Communities

By Oliver J. Dinius; Angela Vergara | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Whitened and Enlightened
The Ford Motor Company and Racial
Engineering in the Brazilian Amazon

ELIZABETH ESCH

Shades of Tarzan! You’d never guess these bright, happy, healthy school
children lived in a jungle city that didn’t even exist a few years ago.

—“The Ford Rubber Plantations”

A look at the world of the Ford Motor Company in the decades after World War I reveals just how thoroughly the company had been able to create what it described as an “empire.” The war had, of course, played a massive role in this, spreading not just Ford’s products and production methods across the globe, but also those of the United States. As Ford workplaces appeared around the world—assembly shops, manufacturing plants, and car dealers—so too did the residential areas Henry Ford himself fantasized would one day include all nonfarm workers: “Ford towns,” as they came to be called first in Michigan. Amazingly, such “Ford towns” were not just part of the company’s narrative of life and work in the United States; they were increasingly part of a global geography. By the mid- to late 1930s an expanding and border-crossing network linked Ford City, California, to Ford City, Tennessee, both “Ford towns”; Pequaming, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and purchased by Ford in 1923, sent its timber to Iron City, Michigan, where Ford owned and ran a timber camp including one of the world’s most advanced sawmills; further south but in a country to the north of the United States was Ford City, Ontario, Canada, itself linked by imperial geography and company schemes to Port Elizabeth, South Africa, already nicknamed the “Detroit of South Africa,” where would-

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