The idea for the Friendship Train originated in 1947 against the backdrop of war-torn Europe. In that year, American newspaper columnist Drew Pearson conceived the plan of a grass-roots humanitarian effort that would assist the Marshall Plan in providing aid to the countries of France and Italy. After crossing the country collecting goods from American citizens, the train consisted of several hundred boxcars and $40 million worth of food, clothing, medical supplies, and other staples. The boxcars arrived in Europe, and the train rolled through the countries distributing relief aid.
In response, a French railroad worker, André Picard, initiated the Merci (or Gratitude) Train as a way of thanking American citizens for their generosity. The boxcars used for this response effort were called "40 and 8s." During World War I, they were used to transport troops and animals and were capable of carrying up to forty servicemen or eight horses. The citizens of France filled forty-nine of these boxcars, one for each of the forty-eight states and one which was divided equally between the territory of Hawaii and Washington, D.C., with a wide array of gifts. These included books, ashtrays, vases, bridal gowns, dolls, children's drawings, pictures, original manuscripts and musical compositions, and other items. After landing in New York, the train made stops in each state leaving a boxcar of gifts. These items were then dispersed to libraries, state institutions, schools, and individual citizens.
Over the course of history, this gesture has remained largely forgotten. Although many of the boxcars have been refurbished and placed on display, there are some that remain missing and are presumed to have been destroyed. In addition, even though most states performed an inventory of the items prior to distribution, today many of the gifts cannot be accounted for.
Scheele, Dorothy R. "What Generosity ... What Gifts!" Lancaster County, November 2001, 54- 59.
"Univ. Gets Share of French Gifts." The Review, February 17, 1949, 1.
"The Merci Train" Retrieved January 14, 2002 from http://www.rypn.org/Merci/ (site no longer available).
In 1947, American citizens contributed food, clothing, medical supplies and other staples to an ever-growing train of goods to be distributed to the people of war-torn France. As a token of gratitude, French citizens replied in kind and gathered a collection of forty-nine boxcars laden with various gifts for the American people. Known as the Merci, or Gratitude Train, the train deposited one boxcar of items in each state. The boxcar given to Delaware made several stops and gifts were distributed throughout the state. Among the items distributed in Newark were these to the University of Delaware Library: three manuscripts, spanning the years 1936-1948, that comprise this small Merci Train Collection. Consisting of .33 linear feet, the manuscripts included in this collection were written and donated by A. Carriere of Millau, Aveyron, France. Also included is a handwritten letter of gratitude to the American people by the author.
All of the three manuscripts are handwritten and appear to be hand-bound. Both "Les Brigands de Millau" and "Monographie de la Terre & Commune de Saint-Léons: patrie de J. H. Fabre" are dated 1936, while the third manuscript "Les Gorges de la Jonte" is dated 1948. The first manuscript "Les Brigands de Millau" addresses French history during the revolution. The second manuscript "Monographie de la Terre & Commune de Saint-Léons: patrie de J. H. Fabre" discusses the geography and cultural history of the city of Saint-Léons. It contains sections on the police department, the office of mayor, community institutions, local hospitals and churches, and the agriculture of the region. Also included are many hand-drawn illustrations and maps of the area. The final manuscript "Les Gorges de la Jonte" appears to be a geological treatise. It also contains various hand-drawn illustrations and maps. Though the manuscripts in this collection provide an overview of the history and geography of the Averyon region, the manuscripts, as artifacts, represent the good will and gratitude of the people of Averyon and their contributions to the Merci Train.