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Connecticut’s Gifts to Europe
by Dorothy R. Scheele

The Friendship Train originated from an idea developed by Drew Pearson, well-known broadcaster and columnist of the mid-twenties century. While in Europe after World War II, he noted that Communist Russia was sending a paltry number of boxcars of grain to France and Italy, and when the grain arrived, huge celebrations emphasized the source. Pearson surmised that the purpose of the grain deliveries was to persuade Europeans to accept Communism. Considering a Communist Europe anathema, Pearson concluded that the United States could send food to Europe. He wanted the American people, not the government, to send the food and to that end he and others organized a train which would cross the country collecting food from the people. Although the train crossed only eleven states, every state contributed. Connecticut’s contribution reflected the people’s concern and generous hearts.

The Train did not stop in Connecticut nor any of the other New England states. Instead, as in all the other 37 states where the Train did not stop, the community sent its boxcars to it. In this case the meeting place was New York City, the only departure point for the Friendship Train.


Hartford’s boxcars for the state’s Friendship Train departed from the Spruce Street siding at noon on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27, 1947, its cargo—70 tons of food. A swath of Hartford citizens and organizations made the Friendship Train a reality in the state. Other nearby communities contributing to the Train were New Britain, Willimantic, Simsbury, Glastonbury, Colebrook, and Elmwood.


Among those helping to engender the Friendship Train in Connecticut were John Tatty, conductor of the Mazzini Society program, and Mrs. Walter Rydzewski, secretary to Mayor Allen and treasurer of the Friendship Train committee. Frederick R. Coles for the Hartford National Bank and Trust tracked the cash donations.


In Elmwood, a committee headed by Harry W. Reed organized Friday and Saturday afternoon pick-us. Sound trucks preceded the collection trucks, announcing that the pick-up trucks would be there in about 30 minutes. Boy scouts went from door to door to carry the contributions to the trucks. As was true throughout the nation, the Friendship Train drive asked for non perishables such as, flour, spaghetti, macaroni, evaporated milk, and sugar.


Collection trucks bore the banner stating, “Let’s fill the Friendship car with Elmwood spirit.” City boundaries for the truck were from Park Road to Newington Town Line to New Park Avenue. Boy Scouts went from door to door to picking up the donations. Following the two-day campaign, Elmwood residents had contributed an Army truckload of food.


Hartford citizens and businesses gave to the Friendship Train. Five wholesalers, Roberts, Steels, and Dolan, Arthur S. Vogel, E. R. Kibble and Company, Gaer Brothers, and D. Rubin, Inc. sold their commodities at wholesale price. Some of the other contributors were St. Marks Church, St. Bridgets Church, Councilmen James Broughel and Thomas Blume, and Boy Scout Troop 74. Collection points were the 15 stations. Collections began on November 18, and ended on November 20, the day before Thanksgiving. Maine and the Canal Zone contributed $8,500. At some point in the cash collection Mayor Allen promised to sing when donations reached $100; he sang “Where in the World but in America.” Dr. Bergdorf raised $30.00 by singing; however, his song was not reported. Mrs. Allen’s playing of a Brahams waltz resulting in $112. The final amount tallied in February the following year came to $9,535.


Donations in the form of services were essential to completing the campaign for the sorely needful Europeans. The United Aircraft Corporation donated 1,000 boxes with water proof lining. The Southern New England Telephone Company had placed a second telephone in Mayor Allen’s office because the existing phone was tied up with Friendship business and daily business was at a standstill. Soldiers from the Headquarters Company 43 Infantry packed the foodstuffs. Police Chief Michael J. Godfrey guaranteed police escort for every truck and stated each of them would be paraded through downtown Hartford. Superintendent of the New Haven Railroad, William H. Brooks, informed the Friendship Train committee that the railroad would provide as many cars as were needed. The packing was supervised by Edward A. Williams of Billings Spencer Company.


The boxes were stenciled in black paint with the words “From your friends in Hartford, (or appropriate city) Contact, U.SA. The Contact Manufacturing Association and the Teamsters Union transported the food from the collection points to the state Armory.


The leaders of the send-off ceremony were Lt. J. J. Rooney of the railroad police and Lt. Thomas Cary of the Hartford police. Others at the festivities were Dr. Burgdorf and Glenn O. Rowell, chair of the Friendship Train committee. Gov. James L. McConaughy and Mayor Allen both donned painters’ caps and put the final touches on the first departing car.


This departure celebration was broadcast by radio stations WONS, WTIC, WDRC, AND WTHT. The program originated at the WTIC facility. The New Haven Railroad transported, gratis, the gifts to New York City where ships were waiting in the harbor for the final journey across the Atlantic to Europe to help their starving cousins. 

List of Works Consulted

“Food Appeals Will Be Made In Jamboree” The Hartford Daily Courant Nov. 22, 1947: 11.

“Food Gift Collections Start Today” ” The Hartford Daily Courant Nov. 18, 1947: 17.”Reports Made

“Friendship Train Collections Planned in Elmwood Area” Hartford Daily Courant Nov. 21, 1947: 12. 

“Friendship Train Will Be Filled Today” Hartford Daily Courant Nov. 28, 1947: 1.

“Hartford’s Friendship Train Pulls Out Bears 70 Tons Of Food For Europe” The Hartford Courant Nov. 28, 1947: l.

“Radio Brings Friendship Train Gifts” The Hartford Courant Nov. 24, 1947: 1.  

“Reports Made On Friendship Train Gifts” The Hartford Courant Feb. 24, 1948: 11.

“Whistle On Friendship Train Warns That Food Must Be In By Tonight” The Hartford Courant Nov. 25, 1947: 1.

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The author welcomes any additional information which would add to this state's history.

The Friendship Train was the genesis for the French Merci Train. Website www.mercitrain.org has information about that train.

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