From Friendship to Gratitude - The Merci Train Collection
The Merci (Gratitude) Train was created by the people of France in 1949. "Merci" means thank you in French, during World War II the United States sent France food and supplies on the Friendship Train and helped liberate France from German invasion. The French wanted to thank the American people for supporting France, with gratitude, the French placed gifts, food, and other supplies on each boxcar of the Merci Train to send to the United States after the war ended.
The Merci Train Collection contains a sampling of items that were on the train. Including, but not limited to, paper stars, photographs, clothing, tablecloths, pillows, toys, paintings, books, trench art, glassware, and lovely dolls showing the traditional dress of several French provinces.
Drew Pearson, a well-known journalist, proposed the idea of the "Friendship Train" to provide food and supplies to the people of France and Italy in 1947. In his broadcasts, Pearson urged Americans to donate food to help starving citizens of France and Italy rebuild their countries. Pearson's Friendship Train concept inspired many journalists to also ask Americans to donate foods and supplies. Families, schools, churches, businesses, and various organizations responded with contributions.
On November 7, 1947, the Friendship Train began its 11-day journey from Los Angeles, California, proceeding through Nevada, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. Arizona and other states outside the route sent their boxcars directly to New York.
The Friendship Train reached its final U.S. destination, in New York City, on November 19, 1947. Then the 700-boxcar train was shipped off to France to arrive on December 18, 1947 filled with $40 million worth of food and supplies, including fuel, clothing, and medicine.
Two years later, the French showed their gratitude by giving thousands of gifts to the American people. Andre Picard, a French railroad worker and war veteran, suggested the creation of the French Gratitude (Merci) Train. To build the Merci train, he suggested the use of 49 WWI era boxcars, known as 40 & 8s. The 40 & 8 boxcars have the capacity to carry 40 men or 8 horses and were used as transportation for the American and French soldiers during World War I.
In 1949, America received over 250 tons of gifts from the French Merci Train. The gifts arrived aboard the Magellan ship to Weehawken, New Jersey, docking on February 2, 1949. The words "Merci America" were painted on both sides of the ship.
The boxcars were adorned with forty coat-of-arms, each representing one of the forty provinces of France. A banner ran across both sides of the boxcar, marked "Train de la Reconnaissance Francoise" and "Gratitude Train." They were loaded onto flatbed cars for delivery to various destinations throughout the U.S.
Each state received one boxcar, with one boxcar split between the territory of Hawaii and Washington, D. C. Many cultural institutions and museums displayed the gifts for public viewing before gifts were distributed to individuals per request of those who donated items to the train.
Arizona's boxcar arrived in a Phoenix railway yard on February 17, 1949. The Arizona boxcar was transported by a National Guard Tank Recovery Trailer to the State Capitol. The following day, the boxcar was presented by Drew Pearson, along with several French and American dignitaries, to Arizona Governor Daniel E. Garvey, Mayor Nicholas Udall, and Lt. Col. Frank E. Fraser, Executive Chief of the Arizona National Guard.
Governor Dan E. Garvey wrote a letter to the French citizens thanking them for the gifts. Arizona displayed its gift collection to the public on the State Fair Grounds; however, the gifts were never distributed to the community. Arizona is the only state to have its gift collection intact. Arizona's 40 & 8 boxcar has been restored and is displayed at the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale, Arizona. The boxcar has been used as a backdrop for Scottsdale's Veterans Day Celebration.LanguageEnglishFrenchPermissions and ReuseCopyright and/or publication rights for all images in this collection are retained by this institution. Contact the Arizona Capitol Museum at (602) 926-3620 for further information.Browse TopicArt and Creative WorksMilitary and WarSociety and CultureTransportation and Travel