The Freedom Train of 1947-1949

How much do you know about America’s Freedom Train that ran from 1947-1949? Eager to learn more? We dug into the history behind it and compiled an easy-to-read Q&A on some of what we think are the most interesting aspects. Enjoy!

Q: Who was behind the Freedom Train?

A: It was a collaborative effort of Americans who were keenly aware of the precious freedoms afforded to our country following the devastation of the war; a reminder of the blessings and values of the American system. This group included military members, an artist, a governor, the railroads and everyday citizens.

Q: Was the Freedom Train a government funded project?

A: Believe it or not, it wasn’t however, it ran on 52 different railroads with Presidential priority. It toured over 300 cities in 48 states (which was all of the United States at that time) and the first stop was in Philadelphia, PA on September 17th, 1947 The train came to the end of its tour in Washington, DC on January 22nd, 1949.

Q: If the train wasn’t government funded, who providing the funding?

A: It was a culmination of property provided by various railroads. The locomotive was from The American Locomotive Company (ALCO) in Schenectady, NY. The baggage car was provided by The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and functioned as the the equipment car. The three main display cars were loaned from The Pennsylvania Railroad and lastly, but quite possibly the most important, The Pullman Company lent the three cars that accommodated the staff for the journey which included two dozen marines that provided security for the documents.

Q: What documents?

A: Well, the train carried 127 “documents of liberty” and 6 historical flags along with other treasures that held inspiration dating back to early America. Included in the 127 documents were the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address, the German and Japanese surrender documents that ended WW2, and the Constitution. A great deal of what was displayed had not left Washington D.C. before and hasn’t since.

Q: I heard the train’s design was unconventional – who designed it and why was it so unusual?

A: Chester Mack was assigned, by ALCO, to design the train’s exterior. Despite the coal-smoke and soot that was reminiscent of the 1940’s railroading, Mack chose to paint the train white with red and blue striping over a more conventional idea of a dark background with lighter on top to disguise the residue. The result was breath-taking and the consensus was that it was well worth the risky decision.

Did we miss any questions that you have about the Freedom Train? If so, feel free to post them in our comments section and we’ll see if we can dig up an answer for you. Want to learn more about America’s historical trains? Check out our Lincoln Train Museum page and come see us! We would love to share more from our vast knowledge of early American trains and the roles they played throughout the monumental moments that defined our great country.