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The 1947 Friendship Train in Delaware
by Dorothy R. Scheele

Delaware’s contribution to the Friendship Train began with Wilmington Lodge #307 of the Elks.  The Lodge started the food drive in early November 1947.  Initially, the collection moved slowly.  L. J. Buckley of the Elks Lodge, through the November 18th issue of Journal-Every Evening, urged people to contribute.

Donations of money and cases of food began pouring in.  The Retail Grocers Exchange contributed 100 cases of food and sold cases at cost to any person or organization wishing to buy them.  Freihofer and Huber, local bakeries, each contributed 1,000 pounds of flour.  The A. C. Layman Machines Company, the Women’s Society of Christiana Service of Grace Methodist Church, Crowell Corporation, Wilmington Friends School, and Miss Kelley’s Sunday school class were among some of the many groups contributing cash.

Because the Friendship Train itself did not come to Delaware, a committee from the Elks Lodge, consisting of Thurston Lowe, John L. Carney, and L. J. Buckley, traveled to Philadelphia to present the cash donation and a voucher for the contributions to the Friendship Train committee located there.  Trucks departing from R. G. E. Central Warehouse at 500 Walnut Street delivered the food.  The $1,800 in monetary donations which Delawareans had contributed provided for the purchase of more food.  If Delaware did not meet its goal of one carload, it came very close.  The difficulty may have stemmed from a lack of advertising in southern Delaware.

Apparently the food campaign barely reached the lower part of the state.  Two publications, The Public Press and Bi-State Weekly, November 13 and 14 respectively, mention the Friendship Train in perfunctory editorials.  An article in the November 14 Wilmington Morning News, 1947, mentions that Georgetown and other towns in the lower part of the state had been among those contributing cash.  Other than that citation, scant references to the Friendship Train appear in local papers.  Pick-up points, names of donors, deadlines, or anything resembling a food drive simply do not appear in local papers.  The Public Press, in its November 27, 1947, issue, printed a copy of the tag that accompanied each gift.  That announcement, however, appeared six days after the campaign had ended.  The tag stated the name and address of the donor and a uniform message to the recipients.  On November 17, the Sunday Morning Star printed an announcement encouraging everyone to “Attend the ‘Send-Off’ ceremonies for the Friendship Train.”  Despite the publicity, which admittedly was minimal, there seems to have been little awareness of the food drive in southern Delaware.

However, citizens of the First State can be proud of their contributions and that they justly earned the boxcar of gifts, which France sent to them via the Merci Train.*  This train consisted for 49 box cars, one for each state and one to be shared by Washington D.C and Hawaii.   After distribution of the gifts to hospitals, libraries, colleges, and schools, Delaware’s boxcar became permanently located at the American Legion Post in Seaford, Delaware.  A visit to the site is informative and thrilling because it provides a feeling of pride in being an American.  A picture of it is on Earl Bennett’s website: www.mercitrain.org.  Mr. Bennett has written a ninety-page history of the Merci Train and his search for the boxcars over a six-year period.  The book is available for sale on his website. 

List of Works Consulted

“City Hails Friendship Train; Food Total is Put at 270 Cars” New York Times, Nov. 19, 1947: late city ed. 1.
“Elks Receive $558 for Friendship Train” Wilmington Morning News, Nov. 15, 1947: 3.
“Food Donations, Cash Give Hope For Carload in Friendship Train” Journal-Every Evening [Wilmington, DE], Nov. 19, 1947: 1+.
“Food for Friendship Train Fund Increased to $1,000” Wilmington Morning News, Nov. 18, 1947: 24.
“Food Train Cut in Two” Merced Sun-Star [Merced, CA],Nov. 15, 1947: 1
“Friendship Train Fund Here Now Totals $1,500” Wilmington Morning News, Nov. 20, 1947: 4.
“Friendship Train Fund Total $1,800” Wilmington Morning News, Nov. 21, 1947: 1+.
“Friendship Train Given Send-off in Hollywood” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 8, 1947: 6.
“Friendship Train Near End of Trip” Wilmington Morning News, Nov. 18, 1947: 4.
“Friendship Train Rolls” Public Press [Lewes and Rehoboth Beach, DE], Nov. 13, 1947: 1.
“Hollywood Has Supercolossal Show As Send-off for Friendship Train On Its Food-Collecting Tour of U. S.” LIFE, Nov. 23 & 24, 1947: 49.
“Midnight Deadline For Food Train Gifts” Journal-Every Evening [Wilmington, DE], Nov. 21, 1947: 28.
 “New Deadline Set for Gifts To Food Train” Journal-Every Evening [Wilmington, DE], Nov. 18, 1947: 1+.
“New Deadline Set for Train Gifts” Journal-Every Evening [Wilmington, DE], Nov. 18, 1947: 1+.
“Retail Grocers Aid Friendship Train Project” Journal-Every Evening [Wilmington, DE], Nov. 17, 1947: 1+.

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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