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

Freedom Train


In the late 1940s, an unusual public service campaign was initiated in the form of a train. The Freedom Train was red, white, and blue, and it carried an exhibit of more than one hundred historic documents and items, including the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence. The US Attorney General said project had the goal of "combat(ing) alien ideologies and reawaken(ing) in the American people the reverence we know them to have for the American way of life."

President Truman went along with the idea, and the Attorney General secured the use of some marines to guard the train and its precious cargo throughout the journey. The train set out from Philadelphia on September 17, 1947. Christened the "Spirit of 1776," the train was on tour for 413 days, visiting all 48 contiguous states and travelling more than 37,000 miles.

At the end of April in 1947, the freedom train rolled through North Dakota. Newspapers across the state reported on the long lines, often forming several hours before the train officially opened. Bismarck was the train's first stop in North Dakota, followed by Minot, Jamestown, Fargo, then finally, on this date, Grand Forks became the train's 174th stop.

People travelled from everywhere to see the famous train. Schools let out for the day and some students were carted in from nearby towns. A Canadian businessman even chartered a plane to Bismarck to view the documents.

Minot garnered the largest crowds, picking up people who missed the train in Bismarck as well as others from nearby areas. Due to a late opening, just over half of the estimated 20,000 who came to the city to see the train were successful. Nevertheless, Minot set a new one-day attendance record for the 82 cities west of the Mississippi river where the train had so-far appeared. Some people fainted while waiting in line. And Boy Scouts handed out pamphlets about the documents. Jamestown had ten bands play throughout the day. When the train reached Fargo, Minot’s attendance record fell as 10,925 people visited. During the final stop in Grand Forks, the University band played all morning for the thousands who lined up.

North Dakotans had turned out strong to see documents of American history that most had only read about.

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker



Minot Daily News, April 27, 1948

Minot Daily News, April 28, 1948

Grand Forks Herald, April 30, 1947

The Jamestown Sun, April 30, 1948

The Jamestown Sun, April 28, 1948