The country of France was in ruin and barely able to continue following years of war and occupation by the Nazis following WWII. Where the Marshall Plan provided a government sponsored form of aid to the French, newspaper columnist Drew Pearson appealed to the heart of the American people for a grass roots form of relief aid. Americans responded with 40 million dollars worth of food, clothing and medical supplies from all 48 states. It was loaded into 700 box cars referred to as the Friendship Train and shipped to France in 1947.
In response to the American Friendship Train, the people of France reciprocated with their own Merci Train. The idea originated with Andre' Picard, a french veteran and railroad worker. The train consisted of 49 French railroad box cars built between 1872 and 1885 and used up until the end of WWII. One car was directed to each the 48 states with one car to be shared by Washington, D.C. and the territory of Hawaii. During WWI and WWII, these box cars were used to transport soldiers and animals each having the capacity to hold either 40 men or 8 horses (hence the name "40 and 8" car). American soldiers who were transported in Pullman cars to US ports to board ships for France were crammed into these old wooden box cars for transport to the front when they landed.
An estimated six million French families contributed something of value to fill the cars with over 250 tons of various personal gifts. The train arrived through the port of Weehawken, New Jersey on February 3, 1949. Congress passed a law permitting the train and its contents to enter the United States duty free.
The car above, destined for the state of New York, was paraded down Broadway ticker- tape parade style to the delight of about 200,000 people. Inside the car were many gifts including a 500 pound bell cast by the city of Annecy. The bell was labeled to the attention of Cardinal Spellman and he placed it in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. But most of the gifts were more of a personal nature from people who had little to give at the time.
The New York State 40 & 8 Merci Train Box Car was under the care of the Onondaga County Voiture #359 and was loaned to Rail City Museum for display with other vintage railroad equipment in 1956. It remained on display at Rail City for 18 years.