The Merci Train is a “thank you” gift from France. After World War II journalist Drew Pearson, suggested the American people donate food and clothing to the war torn countries in Europe. His suggestion created the Friendship Train; it sent aid in the form of food and clothes from the people of the U.S. to France. French railroad workers wanted to say thank from the people of France. France sent 49 boxcars, one for each state and one to be divided between the District of Columbia and the Territory of Hawaii. The nickname for these cars was the 40 and 8.
Why the 40 and 8?
The name the 40 and 8 means forty men or eight horses. (Hommes 40 Chevaux 8 on the side of each boxcar) During WWI these boxcars were used to transport soldiers (including Americans) to the front lines. American soldiers created a legion called the forty and eight when they returned to the states. This legion is still active today for all soldiers. The various state legions were very active in the arrival of their state’s boxcar.
What was in the boxcar?
The majority of gifts are household items. There are several ceramic bowls, plates, ashtrays, and cigarette boxes. Some gifts were distributed to all states, for example, the Friendship Cord. The cord is made with the remnants of the United States and French flag that flew on Liberation Day in France. Other gifts are unique to the state, for example, the replica statue of Winged Victory on display at the capitol building. The remaining artifacts in the Idaho State Historical Soceity collection include artwork from classrooms in France, amateur paintings, dolls, toys, medals, and those previously mentioned.
Where can you learn more about the Merci Train, other boxcars and artifacts?
MerciTrain.org is a comprehensive website including the most up to date information on the location of the Merci Train Boxcars and known whereabouts of the gifts.