The idea of the Merci Train came from a French railroad worker and World War II veteran, Andre Picard.
Also known as the French Gratitude Train or the Forty and Eight*, the Merci train arrived in New York City on Feb. 3, 1949. On the side of the French freighter was painted “MERCI AMERICA.” Some 25,000 people watched the arrival.
The boxcars, filled with “gifts of gratitude from 6 million French and Italian citizens, were divided among the 48 states, with the 49th car shared by the District of Columbia and Hawaii, not yet a state.
The gifts of dolls, statues, clothes, ornamental objects, furniture and even a Legion of Honor medal said to have belonged to Napolean, were a “thank you” to the United States for the liberation of France during World War II. Each boxcar carried 5 tons of gifts. The Merci train was a response to over 700 boxcars of supplies sent by the American people to France in 1947.
Most states continue to exhibit the boxcars in parks and museums. The Colorado boxcar has been missing since 1954. The boxcars were destroyed in 5 states – Massachusetts, Illinois, Nebraska, Connecticut and New Jersey.
Locate other Merci boxcars here: http://mercitrain.org/
Forty-and-eights, dating to 1870s, were French 4-wheel covered goods wagon used as military transport cars. The term refers to the cars’ carrying capacity — 40 men or 8 horses. They were originally used in military service by the French Army in both World Wars, and then later used by the German occupation in World War II and finally by the Allied liberators.