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Cool Things - Merci Train Gifts

Doll dressed in costume of the French province of Dauphine

These gifts were sent to Kansas by the people of France via the "Merci Train."

Large areas of Europe were devastated by the fighting in World War II (1941-1945). Although the United States contributed thousands of troops to the war, and people on the home front dealt with rationed food and supplies, the U.S. mainland never experienced the terrible effects of combat. North America recovered quickly after the war, but Europe did not. In 1947 nationally known columnist Drew Pearson took note of the hardships suffered overseas, and suggested that the American people come to the aid of the war-torn continent.

Friendship Train

The result was a relief effort known as the "Friendship Train"--boxcars filled with food and supplies from different regions of the United States. Kansas participated in the "Friendship Train" organized by the southwestern states, comprised of nearly 200 boxcars. Kansas was the major contributor to the southwest train, providing over 40 cars of foodstuffs. One Ford County farmer alone donated five carloads of wheat.

Suffering Europeans responded to the "Friendship Train" with gratitude. One hard-hit country, in particular, wanted to show its appreciation in a concrete way. As a thank-you gesture, the people of France contributed many personal items as gifts for the United States, filling a boxcar for each of the 48 states plus an additional car to be shared by Washington, D.C., and Hawaii. Their effort became known as the "Merci [thank you] Train."

Wooden tray hand-carved by a sculptor at St. Germain les Belles

Merci Train Boxcars

Because the Wichita Eagle newspaper had organized the southwestern "Friendship Train," Wichita was chosen as the formal welcoming site for the Kansas "Merci Train" boxcar. Governor Frank Carlson accepted the gifts for the state. A nonprofit organization known as Merci Gifts for Kansas, Inc., was created with the following purposes:

  • to display the boxcar and gifts in as many communities as possible in the state, and
  • to distribute the gifts to colleges, schools, museums, libraries, and other public institutions.

To accomplish the first goal, the "Merci Train" boxcar was taken on a tour of 120 Kansas towns. Wichita's display of the gifts attracted over 40,000 visitors in a ten-day period. The second goal was achieved by encouraging public institutions to petition the Wichita Eagle's managing editor (who was a member of the board of Merci Gifts for Kansas, Inc.).

Mostly personal items from French citizens, the "Merci Train" gifts included pottery, porcelain, crystal, woodwork, church bells, bonnets, costumes, historical documents, musical records, books, and letters written by school children. French people contributed their own possessions in many instances, sometimes attaching a personal note.

The following "Merci Train" gifts were given to the Kansas Historical Society by Merci Gifts for Kansas, Inc.:

  • Two dolls dressed in costumes of the French province of Dauphine
    (one pictured at top right; view other doll)
  • French nurse doll
  • Album containing artwork and recordings by French schoolchildren

Medals  struck by French government in honor of French-American unity

The Society's collections also include a porcelain vase. French president Vincent Auriol personally contributed a Sèvres vase to every state's boxcar on the "Merci Train." Kansas' vase was turned over to the office of then-governor Frank Carlson, who donated it to the Society's collections in 1949. It is currently on display in the main gallery of the Kansas Museum of History.

For more on the "Merci Train" and the boxcars and gifts that are scattered throughout the United States, visit The Merci Train web site.

Entry: Cool Things - Merci Train Gifts

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: October 2005

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.