- from Amazon
Suppose you follow the Amazon upstream almost 1,000 miles from its mouth. Continue to where it meets the Rio Negro. There, you’ll come to the city of Manaus, Brazil.
Today, ships here unload food, tools, and goods from around the world. They also pick up animal skins, Brazil nuts, and other products for their return trip. But in 1900, Manaus was known for just one thing. Rubber.
All around Manaus in the tropical rain forests of the Amazon, rubber grew wild. Indians and poor farmers collected rubber from trees and brought it down the river to Manaus. Clever businessmen made vast fortunes from their labor. These millionaires were known as rubber barons. For over 40 years, from 1870 to around 1910, they set their own prices for rubber.
Then in 1913, the boom ended. It turned out that Englishman Henry Wickham had sneaked seeds of the rubber plant out of Brazil in 1870, although it was illegal to do so. The seeds made their way to Malaya (called Malaysia since 1963), Singapore, and other parts of Southeast Asia. Several decades later, there were huge rubber plantations in Southeast Asia. They offered rubber to buyers around the world more cheaply than the Amazon rubber barons could.
Boom had turned to bust.