Vintage Ford Facts Search

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Henry Ford's Florida Rubber Plantation

Naturally the speculators had to get their hand in the everyone's honey pot.

Ford also grew Oranges on the property. Evidenced by this 1928 St. Petersburg Times Article
It's well known that Henry Ford had a rubber plantation down in the Amazon in Brazil. Two excellent books have been written about this venture, and Vintage Ford Facts did a review of these books in an earlier post. Click link below.
Vintage Ford Facts' Fordlandia Book Reviews here.

What is not widely known is Ford owned acreage in Labelle and Fort Thompson in Florida with intent to grow rubber on this land.  This came about before the Edison Botanic Research Company in 1927 in which Ford, Thomas Edison & Harvey Firestone funded Edison in his search for alternative sources of rubber.

Ford came into possession of the Labelle property in 1924 as a result of a defaulted mortgage by Edgar Goodno, and hired Goodno to oversee the operation.

William Blakeley who would later go on to work at the Fordlandia Rubber plantation, examined the Labelle property and sent a letter back to the Dearborn Office describing the property. In part it reads:
 consists of 8,200 acres mostly along the Caloosahatchee River, 5,500 acres are cleared and runs from a mucky loam in low sections to a sandy loam.

Henry Ford & Thomas Edison inspected the property several times during their annual winter winter visits to Fort Myers. It appears Edison visited the Labelle property in 1924 for the first time.

With the presence of Henry Ford in town, speculators moved in and started advertising lots for sale and subdivisions that would be built. (see above advertisement) Things got out of hand and Ford's General Secretary; Ernest Liebold was forced to take action and quash the rumors. There are many reports of Liebold sending threatening cease & desist letters to various real estate development firms.

So what ever became of the project?  Initial test plantings were encouraging, but with the Caloosahatchee River flooding the property during the rainy season and other causes, the rubber farm did not work out. The whole works was sold in 1942 to a local cattle rancher and to this day the land remains farm & cattle land.

No buildings appear to have survived the fires & neglect that ravaged this area, but in aerial views you can see remnants of streets that were put in for neighboring subdivisions. As you drive along State Road 80 between Labelle & Clewiston, it's not hard to picture the land looking the same as it did during Ford's time, only difference being the newer machinery and some fields use modern methods of farming.