Today, we see ‘tweets’ that circle the globe in rapid fashion; and we see causes garner attention and galvanize action through YouTube and Facebook posts that shine the spotlight on people or places in need. Well before those popular social media outlets existed, there was a columnist and broadcaster that soon became aware of the power of the media to ‘make things happen’.
In October of 1947, Drew Pearson conceived the idea of a “Friendship Train” that would take food donated by Americans to Europeans struggling in their existence following World War II. Pearson was in Europe, when he noticed the appreciation offered Communists for the few carloads of grain contributed to the people. He was then determined to rally the American people to the cause of feeding the hungry in Europe.
Mr. Pearson was astounded at the response to his plea. Across America towns, cities and states rallied with plans to collect food for the “Friendship Train”. Five weeks after his original announcement, the train moved from Los Angeles through eleven states to New York City. Along the way, every state had connected to deliver their own contributions to the Friendship Train.
No money was spent on food, labor or transportation; and at the end three trains delivered 270 boxcars of donated food to be loaded on a ship bound for Europe – food from Iowans’ gardens, baby food from Gerber, carloads of sugar from Hawaii and incalculable carloads of donations gathered at fire departments and City Halls throughout the nation.
And true to his desire to demonstrate the good will of America, the Friendship Trains that found their way through France and Italy were well posted with signs and banners ‘from the children of the USA to the children of France and Italy”. The Mayor of Paris at the time was General de Gaulle’s brother, Pierre, who greeted Mr. Pearson and his committee at City Hall.
French Friendship Trains made their way from Paris and Lyon to Bordeaux, Brest, Lorient and Toulouse with welcoming celebrations at each stop.
Every package of food had this label:
All races and creeds make up the vast melting pot of America, and in a democratic and Christian spirit of good will toward men, we, the American people, have worked together to bring this food to your doorsteps, hoping that it will tide you over until your own fields are again rich and abundant with crops.”
And soon, we will post the French response with the “Merci Train”.
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