Friday, May 13, 2016

The Merci Train: 49 Boxcars Filled With Gratitude

On February 3, 1949, a crowd of over 25,000 gathered at New York Harbor to see the arrival of a merchant ship named Magellan. On the side of the French freighter was painted the words "MERCI AMERICA". Aboard was forty-nine French railroad box cars filled with tens of thousands of gifts donated by French citizens. This was the Merci Train, a token of appreciation to the people of the US from the people of France, for the 700 boxcars of food and relief materials that Americans had sent to war-torn Europe in 1947.

The 700-car Friendship Train sent by the Americans was the brainchild of Drew Pearson, an American newspaper columnist and nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. Pearson was in Europe when he noticed that the Russians were being lauded and 'thanked' for their contributions of a few carloads of grain delivered to Europeans. Being a staunch anti-communist, the great fanfare celebrating these meager gifts rankled Pearson. He believed that the United States could surpass the communists in sending food to the desperate, hungry Europeans.
At his initiative, a country-wide effort was launched starting from Los Angles. A train with a dozen boxcars filled with macaroni, sugar, flour and other food supplies left Los Angles on an eleven-day journey across eleven states stopping at more than thirty cities and towns along the way. Newspapers, radios, and local organizations including schools and churches helped spread the concept of Pearson's Friendship Train and urged Americans to donate food and supplies. The response was overwhelming. Food, clothing, fuel and other supplies began to pour in from all states.

When all trains originating from different parts of the country converged in New York, more than 700 boxcars loaded with $40 million worth in relief supplies had been collected. Once in New York, the supplies were unloaded and shipped off to France to be distributed directly to individuals throughout the country.

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