The “Merci Train” (1948)
In 1947, the Americans dispatched the Friendship Train—a 700-boxcar train carrying $40 million worth of food, clothing, medicines, and other essential supplies from the US to people in France and Italy left destitute by the devastation of the Second World War.
The following year, French war veteran and SNCF employee André Picard envisaged thanking the Americans for their generosity. He worked with the French Federation of Rail Worker Veterans to organize the Merci Train, also known as the French Gratitude Train. It consisted of 49 boxcars filled with gifts of gratitude from the French people.
The Merci Train left Le Havre port on January 14, 1949 and sailed across the Atlantic on the Magellan—with “Merci America” written in three-meter-high white letters on the ship’s black hull. Over 200,000 Americans came to greet the train when it arrived in New York on February 2, 1949. One of the train’s 49 boxcars was then rapidly dispatched to each of America’s 49 mainland states. Several of the boxcars are preserved in museums and parks across the United States.