Merci Train, Symbol of Franco-American Friendship

Merci Train reception ceremony

A Merci Train reception ceremony in another state (location
unknown). Image from the National Archives

On February 8, 1949, North Carolina’s Merci Train car, filled with gifts of gratitude from French citizens, arrived in Raleigh. The French train, with 49 cars—one for each state at the time, plus one for Washington, D. C. and the territory of Hawaii to share—was sent in response to the American Friendship Train. That train was sent to France by the United States the previous year, and consisted of 700 boxcars filled with relief supplies.

The French train cars, built between 1872 and 1885, were designed to hold either 40 men or 8 horses each—thus their nickname, the “Forty and Eights.” The boxcars had been used during both World Wars to transport troops.

North Carolina's Merci Train Car

North Carolina’s Merci Train car on display at the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer

North Carolina’s boxcar, filled with hundreds of gifts, was received officially in Raleigh by Governor Kerr Scott. The occasion was festive, with a ceremony and parade to welcome the unusual offering.  Following the ceremony, many of the gifts, ranging from toys to textiles, from household items to valuable artifacts, were kept at what is now the North Carolina Museum of History. Others were distributed around the state to libraries, school, and other museums.

Today the Merci Train boxcar is restored and on exhibit at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer.

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