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www.trains-and-trains.dk : A personal view by Christian Vinaa


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USA : The Merci Train : Customs and taxes



"The Merci Train" - "The Gratitude Train" - "Train de la Reconnaissance Francaise"

Table of Contents :

Small stories :

David C. White - Farmer in Kansas Ruth Nathanson - High school senior from New York City


Individual states :
Bold = new content. (G) = can be seen on Google Streetview.

Arizona - Alabama - Arkansas (G) - California (G) - Colorado - Connecticut - Delaware (G) - Florida (G) - Georgia - Hawaii - Illinois - Indiana - Iowa (G) - Kansas - Kentucky - Louisiana (G) - Maine - Maryland - Massachusetts - Michigan - Minnesota - Mississippi - Missouri - Montana - Nebraska - Nevada - New Jersey - New Hampshire (G) - New Mexico - New York - North Carolina - North Dakota - Ohio - Oklahoma - Oregon (G) - Pennsylvania (G) - Rhode Island - South Carolina (G) - South Dakota (G) - Tennessee (G) - Texas - Utah (G) - Vermont - Virginia - Washington (G) - Washington DC - West Virginia (G) - Wisconsin - Wyoming (G).



It isn't always easy to get things done.

Even though the "Friendship Train" and the "Merci Train" were initiated on a 100 % private basis, they still needed some kind of official help from the governments in France and the USA.


In case of the "Merci Train" it was necessary to pass a special law to prevent the French box-cars and their content from being scrutizened and taxed by the US Customs bureau.

In 1948 - 1949 in the USA there were customs and duties on most, if not all, imported goods; as was the case in many countries. Each country tried to protect its own industries by making imported goods more expensive; especially if the imported goods, without the duty, was very competetive - price-wise.

Even though there was no doubt that neither the French box-cars nor the gifts within were aimed at any particular individual who might gain a profit, rules are rules, so the 80th US Congress during its second session passed this short act :

free import act gratitude merci train


And because the French "Merci Train" arrived later than originally expected, the 81th US Congress during its first session extended the act from 1948 :

free import act gratitude merci train


Both acts can be found on http://www.constitution.org/uslaw/sal/sal.htm.
Volume 62, 1948 ( page 671 ) [ PDF - 103 MB ] and Volume 63, 1949 ( page 5 ) [ PDF 87 MB ].


The two acts actually tells us quite a lot about the problems that the organizers of the "Merci Train" had to solve in order to get the French box-cars to the USA.

The box-cars were expected to arrive in 1948 - not in February 1949. Especially communist influences in France delayed the "Merci Train".

The acts concern 2 things: The gifts & The railroad cars.

It is presumed that the gifts are "...for sale for charitable purposes in the United States..." and that the railcars are for "...presentation to noncommercial organizations in the United States..."

Most gifts were in fact not sold, but kept in museums and historical societies. The railroad boxcars were given to non-commercial organizations; in many cases the local "40 & 8 Society".


The US government was surprisingly quick in 1948 and passed the act on June 25, 1948, at a time when the "Merci Train" was hardly organized in France.

In newspapers, and by Drew Pearson, it was reported that congress acted fast and literally hours before congress adjourned for the summer holidays :

Drew Pearson Washington Merry go round



The arrival of "Magellan" on February 02, 1949, on the other hand, must have been some kind of surprise for the US Congress since the second act was passed on February 03, 1949. In fact "Magellan" arrived early. It wasn't planned to arrive till February 06th.

Technically the French box-cars were therefore loaded off "Magellan" and onto USA-soil before the second act was passed by Congress, and the Custom laws were de facto violated on February 02, 1949.

Trade burocracy

As an illustration of the mind-set behind goverments and officials, ( where rules become more important than life ), you can read these clippings from "Foreign Trade - Statistics Notes" from June 1949 :


merci train gratitude train friendship train trade statistics
merci train gratitude train friendship train trade statistics
merci train gratitude train friendship train trade statistics
merci train gratitude train friendship train trade statistics

Please DO note that the "author" apparently is terrified of any "inconsistency".
So what - life is one big inconsistency. smiley







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