". . .
we, the American people, have worked together to bring this food
to your doorsteps . . ."
Probably you have never heard of the Friendship Train. Very
few people know about this small but fascinating piece of American
The train is
unheralded in American history books and virtually unknown to the
citizens of the United States. It is never mentioned to elementary
school children and never referred to in advanced history books,
neither secondary nor collegial.
What is the
Friendship Train? Where did it come from? Why did it exist?
Had it not been
for the Friendship Train, the more well-known Merci
Train, albeit not that well known either, never would have
existed. These trains, which originated after World War II, created
a unique historical link between the United States and France and
of the Friendship Train appeared in American thought and history
on October 11, 1947, in the columns and broadcasts of Drew Pearson. This noted columnist, journalist, and nominee for the Nobel Peace
Prize conceived the idea of the train when in Europe. While there
he noticed that the Communists were being lauded and 'thanked' for
their contributions of a few carloads of grain delivered to Europeans.
The great fanfare celebrating these meager gifts rankled Pearson.
loathed the thought of Communism in Europe. He believed that the
United States could surpass the Communists in sending food to the
desperate, hungry Europeans. Announcing his idea of sending food
across the Atlantic in his broadcasts and columns on October 11,
1947, Pearson asked Americans to donate food from their homes, kitchens,
gardens, and fields.
was fantastically successful. Immediately town, cities, and
states formed plans to collect food and send it to the Friendship
Train. This train was such an exciting and popular idea that competition
among the communities, counties, and states for having sent the
largest contribution was part of the work and also part of the fun.
Actually, there was no reward, but everyone wanted to be the top
Five weeks after
Pearson's announcement, in November 7, 1947, the Friendship Train
began its unprecedented odyssey across our country. Beginning in
Los Angeles, where there was a terrific send-off, and ending in
New York City with another extraordinary celebration. Although the
train traveled through only eleven states, every state contributed
by sending its boxcars or trains to meet the Friendship Train at
a junction or by sending trucks to the train.
not on the original route insisted on giving, thereby causing delays
all along the journey. In fact, the enormity of the donations plus
the mountainous terrain in the West caused the train to divide,
and at its end, there were three trains totally 270 boxcars. The
estimated worth was forty million dollars.
In all aspects
of the train's travel, no money was ever spent: the food, the transportation
by rail and truck, the loading of the boxcars and trucks, the loading
of the ship by the stevedores and the use of the ships was free.
could look themselves in the eye and say, “We did an outstanding
had this label: "All races and creeds make up the vast melting
pot of America, and in a democratic and Christian spirit of good
will toward men, we, the American people, have worked together to
bring this food to your doorsteps, hoping that it will tide you
over until your own fields are again rich and abundant with crops."
Also on every label were these words, "This gift is sent to you
by a tag which had these lines: 'first and last name and address
of donor'. This message was written in Italian and French and printed
beside the American flag.
(It should be
noted that the Friendship Train had absolutely no connection with
the Marshall Plan. The former was sponsored by the people, not the
of the Food in Europe
happen to the food when it reached its destination?
to be certain that the Europeans knew unequivocally the source
of the food. In order to accomplish that objective, the Friendship
Trains also carried tacks, hammers, tapes, and nails so that they
could display the banner of the cities and states which had donated
a particular boxcar even though many of the cars already had them.
He wanted absolutely no doubt that when the French and Italian trains
and trucks transported the gift-laden boxcars, the source was the
United States of America. Also, in keeping with his objective, European
movie theaters ran newsreels taken in America which showed the Friendship
Train's cargo being loaded in numerous cities. Additionally, Pearson
had sent a team of men in advance of the train so that they could
foil Communist interruptions of the distributions and also curtail
black market activity as much as possible.
of the food in was accomplished by both French and American
organizations working there. Pearson appointed American Aid to France,
Inc. to lead and oversee the work, choosing this agency because
it had, since the end of World War II, been sending vital supplies
to France and thus was familiar with distribution work. The help
from that agency plus the French Red Cross and Entre'Aide Francaise
was inestimable in the process.
that he also wanted agencies from the three principal religions
in America, Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant, to be part of the
distribution work, designating the Church World Service, the Joint
distribution Committee, and the National Catholic Welfare Committee
for that task. Some of the other participating organizations were
the American Baptist Relief, the American Friends Service Committee,
Brethren World Service, and the Congregational Service Committee.
In both Italy
and France the distribution trains were called Friendship Trains.
French trains stopped in Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Brest
and Lorient. Local ceremonies celebrated the train wherever it stopped.
ten trains throughout the country. (In both Italy and France
the trains were called Friendship Trains). These trains stopped
in Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Brest and Lorient. Local ceremonies
were held wherever the train stopped.
In Paris about
50 trucks laden with the foodstuffs drove down the Champs Elysees
past the Arc de Triomphe--the first occasion in peacetime when trucks
were permitted on this famous thoroughfare--then down Rue de Rivoli
to City Hall. The Mayor of Paris Pierre De Gaulle, brother of the
General, greeted Pearson and his committee. After both spoke briefly
to the large crowd, the Mayor provided a sumptuous repast for the
American benefactors. They received another honorable reception
when President Auriol greeted them and invited them to lunch. Pearson
stated that the President spoke eloquently in appreciation of the
that although the Italians were at first not as familiar with the
Friendship Train as the French, at the end of the experience they
were probably even more exuberant than the French. In Rome 150
trucks drove from the railroad station past the Palazzio Venezia
and the Coliseum to the Campidoglio. Four Friendship Trains went
through Italy: from Rome to Milan to the Yugoslave border at Gorizia;
and from Genoa to Venice, and south from Naples through southern
Italy; and from Palermo to Sicily.
on the train going to Rome. Upon arrival in the Eternal City, Pearson
officially presented the train to the Mayor who spoke briefly to
the crowd. Pearson also granted a marathon of interviews, speaking
with the Italian press for three hours. In Florence and Bologna
he received thrilling receptions, finding very excited people in
best receptions, Pearson declares, were in the smaller towns they
entered after leaving Milan. The enthusiasm was so high that he
ordered the engineer to stop at every station where there were people,
regardless of whether the stop had been planned. This order required
the train to stop almost every 15 minutes, and even though these
towns had not yet received any food, the people were really happy
to see Pearson and the committee. In Gorizia 10,000 greeted the
train. At Udine the crowd was so large that Pearson had to go to
the town square to speak.
The day after
Pearson had spoken in Rome, every newspaper in Italy, except
for the Communist papers, told the story of the Friendship Train.
One week later the train was still front-page news. American newsmen
and Embassy officials told Pearson that the reception he and the
train received was incredible. They had seen nothing like it since
the end of the war. One can imagine the sense of accomplishment
and success Pearson must have felt. His original thought had been
that he could win friends for the United States through food and
American generosity. He had not been wrong.
Other European Countries
to date are Greece, Germany, Norway, and Austria -- each received
a small amount of the foodstuffs. American good-will envoys traveled
through Germany and Austria when food was delivered. A Mormon church
in Kaysville, UT raised a carload of special wheat for Greece.