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Friendship Train

a privately-organized operation that collected and sent 8 million pounds of food to France and Italy

The Freedom Train was the brainchild of newspaper columnist and radio commentator Drew Pearson, who on October 11, 1947, asked Americans to donate food from their homes, kitchens, gardens, and fields for shipment to the hungry people of France and Italy. People began heeding his request almost immediately, and before long competition among communities, counties, and states for sending the largest contribution became part of the "mission."

The actual "collection drive" began with a parade and ceremony at Hollywood, California, on November 7. When the train left the Glendale station that night it consisted of 12 boxcars of wheat, flour, canned milk, sugar, and a soybean product called "Multi-Purpose Food." The train then began its journey eastward.

The Friendship Train begins its journey.
Friendship Train

Although the Friendship Train traveled through only eleven states before reaching New York City, New York, every state contributed by sending its boxcars or trains to meet the train at a junction or by sending trucks to the train. By the time it reached Chicago,Illinois, the train had become so long that it had to be split up, with one section continuing via the New York Central system and the other over the Pennsylvania Railroad. The Pennsylvania section had to be split again at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and 10 cars were added to the 75-car New York Central section at Buffalo, New York. The various sections of the Friendship Train, totaling 214 cars, arrived in the vicinity of New York City on November 18. Another 52 carloads were added by the New York City metropolitan area, for a total of 266 cars. Not all the donations were of food. Money was contributed to buy food supplies; dress manufacturers contributed a carload of house dresses; and ten thousand druggists gave a carload of vitamins, antiseptics, and medical supplies.

The Friendship Train at Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Friendship Train at Cheyenne, Wyoming

The S.S. American Leader arrives at New York City with 3 million pounds of food for the Friendship Train.
S.S. American Leader

Early in December, ships of the United States Lines and American Export Lines, with flags of the United States and the country of their destination painted on their sides, sailed for France and Italy. The first consignment was landed at Le Havre, France, on December 17, and the French National Assembly voted a unanimous vote of thanks to the United States. The first consignment to reach Italy was landed at Naples on December 29. In both countries ceremonies were held at both the points of debarkation and at towns and cities in which the supplies were distributed, by European versions of the Friendship Train, and boisterous "thank yous" were sent to the people of the United States.

French children write 'thank you' notes on one of the Friendship Train boxcars distributing food.
French children say thank you

No money was ever spent on the Friendship Train, as all of the truck and rail transportation, the loading of the boxcars and trucks, the loading and unloading of the ships, and the use of the ships was donated by the companies involved.

The Friendship Train of 1947

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This page was last updated on November 07, 2017.