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The Freedom Train

April, 1946
William Coblenz, an assistant director with the Public Information division of the Department of Justice, spends his lunch hour at the National Archives. There he views an exhibit containing the German surrender documents and Hitler's last will and testament.

Lamenting that so many Americans will never get to the National Archives to see such documents (and contrasting documents of our heritage of freedom) he decides to take his idea of a traveling exhibit of such documents to the Archivist of the United States, Solon Buck.

April. 1946 Buck likes the idea and passes it along to his boss, who in turn passes it on to Attorney General Tom Clark. With President Truman's "strongest endorsement", the idea takes shape as a seven-car rolling exhibit that will place dozens of documents of American liberty next to dozens of documents illustrating tyranny and despotism. The hope is that this exhibit will cause a reawakening in the hearts of Americans and serve as a reminder that freedom cannot be taken for granted....

Documents of Freedom.

For some visitors to the Freedom Train, certain documents had special meaning. The Freedom Train housed America's most precious documents and other national treasures, including the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, one of the 13 original copies of the Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address, the Iwo Jima flag, the German and Japanese surrender documents that ended World War II, a precious original of the Magna Carta, written in 1215.

February, 1947
The American Heritage Foundation is formed to oversee the financial and operational affairs of the exhibit. The president of the foundation is Thomas Brophy. It is decided the train will be called The Liberty Train and it is decided it will only carry documents related to our American liberties. The concept survives, but the name doesn't.

Original Freedom Train with an Honor Guard Detachment of 29 United States Marines in their dress blues who guarded the train and served as interpreters. The Red, White and Blue Diesel Electric Streamliner traveled on a 37,160-mile tour which began in Philadelphia on September 17, 1947, travelling to all 48 states, and ended on January 22, 1949 in Washington D.C.

August, 1947 The train takes shape. The engine will be a brand new 2000 horsepower PA-1 manufactured and loaned by the American Locomotive Corporation (ALCO). The loaned cars consist of a baggage car form the Santa Fe Railway, three exhibit cars on loan from the Pennsylvania Railroad, and three Pullman cars from the Pullman Company to provide accommodations for the staff of the train. The train is painted red, white and blue in a paint scheme designed by noted designer Chester Mack.

September 16, 1947
The Freedom Train arrives in Philadelphia. Irving Berlin's song "The Freedom Train" debuts on radio. Recorded by Bennie Goodman, Johnny Mercer and The Andrews Sisters, it is an instant hit.

While in New York, as in most places the train went, the Marine guards who weren't on duty were treated to the best the city had to offer. In this case, Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe at the Paramount Hotel, September 28, 1947. Membership has its privileges.

Each member of the Freedom Train's Marine Corps Honor Guard is issued a bronze card from Paramount's M&P Theaters affording them the luxury of free movies for life at any of their theaters.

Fall, 1947 The foundation's short film production "Our American Heritage" is released to theaters nationwide.

The cover of the April, 1948 issue of Joe Palooka encouraged every American to see the Freedom Train; and In June, 1948 the Freedom Train found itself the centerpiece of a dastardly plot - in Captain Marvel Adventures #85.

November 28, 1947 President Truman visits the train for the first of two times. After touring the train, he signs the Freedom Scroll.

It was the only train-set ever to operate in every state, operating on 52 different railroads. Over 3 million people went aboard the Train during its stops in 326 cities and towns across the land. At many of the stops, people waited in line more than six hours to go aboard. The highest single-day attendance was 14,615.

September 17, 1948
President Truman again visits the Freedom Train, this time in Pittsburgh on the train's first anniversary. In a speech from the observation platform at the rear of the train, Truman promotes his hopes for the United Nations.

March 1 - 8, 1948
The Freedom Train gets a thorough overhaul in the shops of the Santa Fe Railroad in San Bernardino, CA. The locomotive is serviced and the entire train is given a new coat of paint.

The Kellogg Company was one of the Freedom Train's many supporters. They offered a variety of premiums to hold the interest of the nation's youth.

In late 1948, the Freedom Train ended its initial tour. It returned to Washington D.C. for Truman's inauguration. But not before a small boy of seven from Texas, named David, was able to forever etch this vision into his memory. For long and exciting was the night I saw the Freedom Train.

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