© 2024
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Merci America


The war was over in Europe, but an impoverished, devastated countryside attested to the carnage that took place. In many communities there was little left in the way of shelter. Entire towns had been reduced to rubble and food was scarce. So once again America came to the aid of the French and Italians when, in 1947, the American Friendship Train distributed forty million dollars in relief supplies to an impoverished population. But this was not an official government program. The Friendship Train contained personal contributions donated by individuals from all across America.

In 1948, Andre Picard, a French railroad worker, hit upon the idea of responding with a boxcar filled with gifts from a grateful French people. He wanted to thank the American people for their sacrifices, both during and after the war. Within months his idea mushroomed to include all corners of France. During both wars, French trains with box cars nicknamed Forty & Eight, for their capacity of either forty men or eight horses were used to haul supplies to the war effort. American soldiers were well acquainted with them, so it was decided these would be ideal for the task. The French Gratitude Train with forty-nine of these iconic boxcars soon became a reality. Presents were gathered to be distributed to all of the states as well as for one car to be shared by the District of Columbia and Hawaii. Books, paintings, crafts and other items held dear by the donors, poured into collection centers across France. French children, who had few possessions, donated their dolls and other toys, often attaching notes to express hopes that these items would find a loving home. In early 1949 the French freighter Magellan, with the words “Merci America” on it, steamed into New York Harbor. The boxcars were unloaded and placed on flatcars because their wheels were not compatible with American rails, and they began their journey across the United States.

It was on this date in 1949 that North Dakota’s Forty & Eight boxcar arrived in Bismarck. The local Forty & Eight chapter was placed in charge of the car and its contents, and a brief welcoming ceremony was held at the station. A larger ceremony was planned for later in the week during the Legislative session. Heartfelt treasures were among the gifts given to the people of North Dakota as we will hear tomorrow.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


The Bismarck Tribune February 17, 1949

Merci America by Manuel Conley, Heritage Review Vol 32 #6 1981