Europe was devastated by World War II, and recovery afterward was slow. Journalist and staunch anti-communist Drew Pearson noticed how grateful the French were for food brought in by the Russians. He knew America could do better, and launched a campaign to send relief supplies to France. Americans responded by shipping 700 boxcars to France on what was called the Friendship Train in 1947. Citizens across the country had donated food, fuel, clothing, and more to fill the cars.
The following year, Andre Picard, a French railroad worker and war veteran suggested that France reciprocate by sending a gratitude train filled with gifts and mementos from his countrymen. Much of 1948 was spent collecting gifts from individual citizens. They ranged from art, wine, needlework, local specialties, furniture, books, homemade toys and children’s drawings, including a jeweled Legion of Honor medal that reportedly belonged to Napoleon. All in all, over 52,000 gifts were collected. These were crammed into 49 railroad cars, meant to be divided amongst the 48 American states with the remaining car to be shared by Washington D.C and Hawaii. Each boxcar was decorated with a painted 'Gratitude Train' ribbon and with 40 coat-of-arms representing the provinces of France.
A ship arrived in New York on February 3, 1949, with “MERCI AMERICA” painted on its side. Railway companies delivered the cars to each designated state, where grand receptions welcomed them. Forty-three of the cars still exist on display in the states. Read the story of the Merci Train and see pictures of the cars at Amusing Planet. -via the Presurfer