Thanksgiving Aboard the Freedom Train

The Freedom Train was a seven-car train that traveled across the United States from September 1947 until January 1949. It was dedicated to the history of American democracy and contained some of the country’s most priceless historical documents, many from the National Archives. 

The Freedom Train, 1948. (Records of the American Heritage Foundation, National Archives)

The Freedom Train arrived from Baltimore on Washington Union Station’s track 4, on November 27, 1947, Thanksgiving Day. After a brief ceremony led by Speaker of the House Joseph W. Martin, visitors—who had lined up very early in the morning—began to enter the train cars. The exhibit remained open for 12 hours on both Thanksgiving and the following day. 

During Thanksgiving Day, the Armed Forces were well represented—the U.S. Marine Band, the Army Band, the Air Forces Band, the Navy Band, in addition to Washington’s Police Band, all held concerts. That day, nearly 10,500 visitors came to see the 127 historic documents on display, including the Bill of Rights and George Washington’s annotated draft of the Constitution, both on loan from the National Archives. 

The following day, President Harry Truman, his cabinet, and Justices from the United States Supreme Court, visited the train. After a 30-minute tour, Truman gave a brief public statement, remarking “I sincerely wish that every person in this country, and in every country, for that matter, could see those documents and appreciate just what they stand for—freedom of the individual and liberty to live as that individual sees fit, as long as he lives in harmony with his neighbors.”

President Harry Truman signing the guest book for the Freedom Train, November 28, 1947. (Records of the American Heritage Foundation, National Archives)

To commemorate the train’s stop in nation’s capital, the Commissioners of the District of Columbia proclaimed the week of November 20th a “week of rededication to American ideals and principles,” designed “to create a greater awareness of the unique blessings of the American heritage and to raise the level of citizenship through more active participation of individuals in the affairs of their government.”

After its visit to Washington, DC, the train left for its next destination, Charlottesville, Virginia. 

Learn more about the Freedom Train in our online exhibit.

3 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Aboard the Freedom Train

  1. The 1947-49 Freedom Train was the rock star of its time. It traveled to more than 300 cities in all 48 states. An average of 9,000 people stood in line each day to view 133 original historic documents such as the Magna Carta, Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln’s original Gettysburg address and memorabilia including the flag raised on Iwo Jima in World War II. The story of the Freedom Train and how it impacted the country is told in the book “Selling Americans on America: Journey into a Troubled Nation.”

  2. How might Americans think about the train after the 2020 elections? I am preparing an analysis for publication.

    Thank you,

    Prof. Peter K. Breit

    1. What impressed us the most as we were researching and writing our book about the 1947 Freedom Train (“Selling Americans on America: Journey into a Troubled Nation”) was the enthusiasm and full cooperation from each town on the train’s schedule. The American Heritage Foundation specified that prior to the train’s visit, each city must stage a Rededication Week. One day would be devoted to education, another to labor, another to religion, etc. They all eagerly followed the foundation’s request, in addition to purchasing collateral material, staging parades and pageants and offering services (such as uniform cleaning and meals) to the Marines tasked with guarding the train. There were Freedom Train radio programs, songs and even an operetta. Many people we’ve spoken with have said, over the past few years, that “we should have a Freedom Train today, in these troubled times.” (“Selling Americans on America” is available on Amazon.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *