The American Freedom Trains
Come To Pittsburgh
September 15-17, 1948 and July 7-10, 1976
The United States of America has seen two national "Freedom Trains" in its history. The first train traveled the continental United States after World War II, from 1947 to 1949. The second train traveled the country during the Bicentennial Celebration, from 1975 to 1976. Both Freedom Trains made a stop in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Celebrating Our Rights, Responsibilities And Freedoms
Shortly after World War II, William Coblenz, an assistant director in the Department of Justice, toured the National Archives. He viewed the many national historic exhibits. These included the latest editions to the collection, the German surrender documents and Adolf Hitler's last will and testament.
Moved by what he saw, Coblenz felt that many of these exhibits, which document the country's heritage of freedom and the sacrifices made over the years to preserve it, should be made available to the masses, many of whom would never get to visit the National Archives.
He came up with the concept of a traveling exhibit that included many of the Archive's priceless treasures. The idea was passed on to Solon Buck, Archivist of the United States, who in turn brought it to the attention of Attorney General Tom Clark.
Attorney General Clark felt that only a year after the conclusion of the World War, Americans had already become complacent about their rights and responsibilities as citizens, and the value of their many freedoms. He proposed the idea of a "Freedom Train" to President Harry S. Truman on May 22, 1947, and received the President's "strongest endorsement."
The Freedom Train was envisioned to include both dozens of documents celebrating American liberty along with an equal number of documents illustrating tyranny and despotism. It was hoped that viewing these exhibits would cause a reawakening in the hearts of Americans and serve as a reminder that freedom can not be taken for granted.
A Seven-Car Traveling Exhibit
The American Heritage Foundation oversaw the financial and operational affairs of the exhibit. The project was funded by a number of corporate, private and government contributions.
The train itself would consist of a new 2000 horsepower diesel-electric locomotive, called the "Spirit of 1776," and seven cars. There was a baggage car, three exhibit cars, and three Pullman cars to accomodate the forty-one member staff.
The train was initially called the "Liberty Train." After some deliberation, it was decided that it would only carry objects related to our American liberties. Before the official launch of the exhibit, the name was changed to "Freedom Train."
Included in the exhibit were such items as Thomas Jefferson's rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address, the Iwo Jima flag, the German and Japanese surrender documents, and the original Magna Carta, written in 1215.
Also displayed were Caesar Rodney's letter, written on July 4, 1776, describing the voting on the Declaration of Independence, and George Washington's letter to Congress outlining the hardships his troops suffered at Valley Forge. Altogether, there were 126 items on display.
Guarding the Freedom Train were a select group of twenty-nine United States Marines, many of whom had seen combat in World War II. The Marines stood their post adorned in their finest dress blues. Colonel Robert F. Scott was named Commanding Officer of the Guard.
The Freedom Train And President Truman Come To Pittsburgh
The Freedom Train began its nationwide journey from Philadelphia on September 17, 1947, which was the 160th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution. The train traveled the country for a year before its route brought it to Western Pennsylvania.
On September 15, 1947, the Freedom Train stopped in Pittsburgh for a three-day stay at the Pennsylvania Railroad Station along Grant Street and Liberty Avenue. For several days before its arrival, local newspapers and radio stations ran a series of patriotic announcements heralding the event. A Pittsburgh Railways streetcar crisscrossed the city painted in the official train colors encouraging citizens to "See The Freedom Train."
In downtown Pittsburgh, long lines of visitors formed hours before the exhibition opened. The train became the most viewed attraction since LST-512 docked on the Monongahela shoreline during the Great Lakes War Bond Drive in October 1945. As a show of respect, men removed their caps before entering the exhibit.
Along with the national exhibit, a very special guest arrived in town on September 17, 1948. President Harry S. Truman himself came to Pittsburgh to celebrate the first anniversary of the launch of the Freedom Train. It was the President's second visit to the train. His first came on November 28, 1947 when the exhibit was in Washington D.C..
The Text of President Truman's Pittsburgh Address
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and
The First Journey Ends
After leaving Pittsburgh, the Freedom Train continued on its journey until January 22, 1949, when it made the final stop in the nation's capital. During it's fifteen month tour, the train traveling a total of 37,160 miles and stopped in 326 cities.
Americans lined up in droves at each stop. When the official ticket count was completed, the total number of visitors was 3,521,841. The highest daily visitor count was 14,615. Many of these visitors left the exhibit with an official Freedom Train souvenir medallion.
It was the first train of any kind to travel the entire breadth of the continental United States and make a stop in all forty-eight states. It did so with the full cooperation of fifty-two independant railroad lines, and was the longest train tour in American history.
When the journey had ended, the Freedom Train had lived up to all that President Truman and Attorney General Tom Clark had envisioned. It's great success was demonstrated in an upsurge of national pride and awareness of freedom and liberty here in the United States.
The Second Coming Of The Freedom Train
As the United States of America approached its Bicentennial in 1976, the country was still suffering from the ravages of the Vietnam War and the aftershock of the Watergate Scandal that had brought a sense of shame and embarrassment upon the nation.
With this in mind, there were no official national celebrations planned to mark the 200th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Although many within the government seemed content with this low-key approach to the country's Bicentennial, there were others who felt that this was just the right time to initiate a celebration that would honor and renew America's sense of national pride.
Among those who felt the need for a national celebration was Ross Rowland, a New York commodities broker and steam locomotive engineer. He envisioned a return to the Freedom Train of 1947-1949, with an added twist. The train would be powered by a vintage steam locomotive. This time the traveling exhibit would be called the "American Freedom Train."
Rowland and several of his partners from prior steam-powered excursion trains knew that the steam locomotive was a proven "people magnet." They believed that a train using vintage motive power would draw the crowds, and that an exhibit featuring historic national documents and artifacts would do wonders in restoring the Spirit of America.
With the backing of five corporate sponsors, Rowland organized a second Freedom Train and set off to prove that national pride was alive and well in the United States of America.
A Traveling Bicentennial Celebration
The new American Freedom Train would consist of twelve display cars. Ten of these would be walk-through displays and the other two would hold large objects that could be viewed from the outside through large showcase windows. A total of twenty-six cars would make up the train, which would be pulled by one of four separate steam locomotives, all specially restored for the occasion.
On board were a collection of five hundred precious treasures of Americana, including the original Louisiana Purchase documents, Benjamin Franklin's handwritten draft of the Aricles of Confederation, Judy Garland's dress from The Wizard of Oz, Joe Frazier's boxing trunks, Martin Luther King's pulpit and robes, Jesse Owens' four gold medals and even a rock from the moon. Also included were many of the same historic documents that were part of the 1948 Freedom Train exhibit.
The American Freedom Train Arrives In Pittsburgh
The train was inaugurated by President Gerald Ford in Alexandria, Virginia on December 19, 1974. Four months later, when all preparations had been made, the train began it's cross-country journey. The first stop on the 140-city nationwide tour was in Wilmington, Delaware. A sellout crowd of 40,000 was onhand for the opening ceremony on April 1, 1975.
After fourteen months of travels, the American Freedom Train arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on July 7, 1976, only three days after the actual bicentennial day celebrations. For Pittsburghers, the timing couldn't have been more perfect.
Still full of patriotic fervor following the city's elaborate Independence Day celebrations, Pittsburgh residents, and visitors from around the metropolitan area, flocked to see the many national treasures.
Not only was it a national celebration, but for local citizens the vintage steam locomotive brought back memories of Pittsburgh's proud railroad heritage. Pulling the Freedom Train at this time was the former Reading #2101. The T-1 class locomotive was originally built in 1923 and upgraded in 1945. Prior to the launch of the Freedom Train, it underwent a complete overhaul.
As in 1948, the Freedom Train was a huge attraction in the city. Once again, the train rested at the Union Station along Grant Street and Liberty Avenue. The train was surrounded by military guards and viewed by tens of thousands of enthusiastic visitors.
Another Huge National Success
After a three-day stay in Pittsburgh, the train continued on it's patriotic journey, which finally came to an end on December 31, 1976 in Miami, Florida.
Over a twenty-one month period, more than seven million Americans visited the American Freedom Train during its grand tour of all forty-eight contiguous states. Tens of millions more onlookers stood trackside to watch it go by.
It was by far the greatest event on rails since the end of the steam era, and a uniquely magnificent vehicle that brought the Bicentennial celebration to the people. Organizers couldn't have been more pleased with the results and the success of their intended reawakening of America's dormant national pride.
Freedom Train Collectables
The original Freedom Train was immortalized in a June 1, 1948 edition of the Captain Marvel comic book (Issue #85). The action thriller featured a four-part adventure. Part 1 was entitled "The Freedom Train Rolls On," followed by "The Chase Through History," "The Heritage Of America" and "The Freedom Plane."
In the comic book adventure, the evil, time-traveling scientist Sivana ventures back through American history to destroy the documents of liberty the Freedom Train will one day carry. Captain Marvel rises to the challenge and foils Sivana's plan. The Freedom Train edition is one of the most sought after issues in the Captain Marvel collection.
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To commemorate the Freedom Trains, Lionel created sets that are now some of their most highly collectable packages. The 1948 Freedom Train set contains replicas of the diesel locomotive and all seven cars. The 1976 American Freedom Train collection, in HO guage, contains all twenty-six cars and replicas of each steam locomotive used during the tour.
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