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The 1947 U.S.-to-Europe or American Friendship Train collected foodstuffs from American donors for transport to the people of France and Italy. Contemporaneous with the Marshall Plan, it provided desperately needed assistance in the aftermath of World War II, but was primarily a token gesture of goodwill, with stops across the U.S. ending at New York City, where it was received with a ticker tape parade prior to shipment to Europe.
The train began from Los Angeles on November 7, 1947, and proceeded through Bakersfield, Fresno, Merced, Stockton, Oakland, Sacramento (California), Reno (Nevada), Ogden (Utah), Green River, Rawlins, Laramie, Cheyenne (Wyoming), Sidney, North Platte, Kearney, Grand Island, Fremont, Omaha (Nebraska), Council Bluffs, Boone, Ames, Cedar Rapids, Clinton (Iowa), Sterling, and Chicago (Illinois). From Chicago the main route passed through Fort Wayne (Indiana), Mansfield (Ohio), Pittsburgh, Altoona, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), and Trenton (New Jersey) before reaching New York City in 11 days. A northern branch assembled cars of aid as it passed through South Bend and Elkhart (Indiana), Toledo, Cleveland, and Ashtabula (Ohio), Buffalo, Syracuse, Utica, and Albany (New York) before joining the train at New York City.
Originally hoped to collect 80 train car loads of food, the train ultimately collected over 700 cars ($40 million value) of food, clothing, and fuel, paid in part by monetary donations. Many of the donations were made by individuals, such as individual cans of evaporated milk collected from junior high students. Described at the time as a "token gift", the aid was symbolic of the Marshall Plan effort. The train was described at the time as effective propaganda for the ideological conflict with the Soviet Union, as well as a characteristically Quaker act by Drew Pearson. Roscoe Drummond of the Christian Science Monitor called it "One of the greatest projects ever born of American journalism".
The Friendship Train was reciprocated by the Merci Train, a group of 49 French train cars (Forty-and-eights) loaded with gifts for the U.S. which arrived in New York Harbor on February 2, 1949. Many of the gifts remain on display at local museums throughout the U.S.
The phrase has been used more recently for other purposes, such as the 1967 "Friendship Train" from the Ernst Thälmann Pioneer Organisation to the Soviet Union, the 1969 song "Friendship Train" written by Norman Whitfield and performed by Gladys Knight & the Pips, and the "Friendship Train" on which Sergey Abramov led a Chechen delegation to Russia in 2004.
The Friendship Train (1948), a 14-minute black and white short film occasionally presented on Turner Classic Movies, presents a detailed and moving account of the progress of the train through cities across the U.S.
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