Time Machine

Time Machine: The Freedom Train makes a stop in C.R.

Tour of nation's historic documents included 1948 stop in Cedar Rapids

The national campaign to advertise the Freedom Train included posters and postcards. (National Archives)
The national campaign to advertise the Freedom Train included posters and postcards. (National Archives)

This story starts with William Coblenz, a government worker in Washington, D.C., who visited the National Archives during a lunch break in 1946, right after the Allies had won World War II.

Seeing the famous documents of U.S. liberty — the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution — displayed alongside an exhibit on fascism, Coblenz came up with the idea to have those documents of freedom tour the United States.

He shared the idea with his bosses in the Justice Department, and Attorney General Tom Clark and President Harry Truman OK’d the tour.

Coblenz had envisioned the documents traveling in a single rail car. But the idea grew to the seven-car Freedom Train, pulled by a new PA-1 locomotive.

The attorney general formed the American Heritage Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit to raise funds for the tour and raise the awareness of the American heritage of freedom.

The 126 documents chosen for the trip included priceless artifacts from the National Archives — a copy of the Magna Carta, the charter of the United Nations (signed the year before), a Thomas Jefferson draft of the Declaration of Independence, the Mayflower Compact, George Washington’s copy of the Constitution and James Madison’s draft of the Bill of Rights.

freedom promoted

In February 1947, Clark spearheaded a national ad campaign with the slogan, “Freedom Is Everybody’s Job,” to precede the cross-country train trek.


It included a song written by Irving Berlin sung by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters. A promotional movie and books were produced to go along with local promotions at each train stop.

The Freedom Train started its tour of the nation in Philadelphia on Sept. 17, 1947.

The sponsors had decided the exhibit would be free and open to everyone, so when city leaders in Memphis, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala., refused to allow integration of train visitors, the cities were removed from the itinerary.

Engine No. 1776 pulled the red, white and blue train into each station. People lined up to board the train. Walking through the cars, they saw well-lighted glass display cases showing off the great charters of freedom. When they disembarked, they were invited to take a Freedom Pledge and sign the Freedom Scroll.

The pledge, it was explained, was not a loyalty oath but instead a pledge promoting the idea that freedom is a civic responsibility. It read:

I am an American. A free American.

Free to speak — without fear.

Free to worship God in my own way.

Free to stand for what I think right.

Free to oppose what I think wrong.

Free to choose those who govern my country.

This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold

For myself and all mankind.

getting ready

The Freedom Train’s itinerary originally included five Iowa stops in May 1948 — Burlington, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Davenport. Those dates were pushed into June as stops were added to the train’s itinerary.

Beginning in early January, public schools, clubs, sewing circles, PTAs and even neighborhood gatherings presented programs on the history of the great documents on their way to Iowa.

Finally, with the date for the Freedom Train’s arrival in Cedar Rapids confirmed, Mayor Frank Hahn appointed Coe College President Byron S. Hollinshead to head a Freedom Train committee, and preparations moved into high gear.

Cedar Rapids stop

The Freedom Train pulled into Cedar Rapids at 3 a.m. Saturday, June 19, stopping south of the Third Avenue SE crossing at Greene Square Park.


Local police set up headquarters near the train. National Guard jeeps parked in front and in back of the train.

About 75 Army officers, National Guardsmen, Navy and Army Air Force reservists, working in shifts, guarded the train’s exterior. A Marine unit of 27 men under the command of Lt. Col. Robert F. Scott, who traveled with the train, guarded the interior.

Auxiliary police units from the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars assisted seven highway patrolmen with traffic control.

A shower forecast for that Saturday morning did not materialize. The welcome ceremony started at 9:30 a.m., and the train opened to visitors at 10 a.m.

Visitors were told to move through the train cars two abreast, but that often didn’t happen as people clustered around certain displays. Still, the lines moved steadily through the train for the next 12 hours, until 10 p.m. The Gazette reported 7,332 people visited the train.

‘liberty plus groceries’

Meanwhile, continuous programs — involving five bands and drum and bugle corps, exhibitions and Freedom Pledge ceremonies — went on throughout the day.

History professor Eric Kollman of Cornell College told of his family’s escape from Austria in 1939 and his first sight of America.

“We knelt down, we prayed, we cried, the tears came from our eyes,” he said. “Freedom — that’s what those of us who come to these shores from oppressed countries appreciate most.”


He went on to say, “Freedom is liberty plus groceries. When the stomach gets hungry, our sense of liberty and freedom sometimes gets lost.”

The Freedom Train’s tour ended in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 22, 1949, and the precious documents went back on display at the National Archives.

1976 train

The train idea was revived in 1976, the nation’s bicentennial, as a 25-car American Freedom Train toured the nation. The route changed significantly, with tracks sometimes in less than ideal condition. Cedar Rapids was not a stop.

Artifacts on board this time included Hank Aaron’s baseball bat, a replica of the Liberty Bell, moon rocks and Judy Garland’s dress from “The Wizard of Oz.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8338; d.fannonlangton@gmail.com

Here are the documents that were aboard the Freedom Train during its 1948 stop in Cedar Rapids:

Letter by Columbus on Discovery of America

Thirteenth Century Manuscript of Magna Carta

The Mayflower Compact

Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges of 1701

Declaration of the Nine Colonies (1765)

Thomas Jefferson’s Statement on Rights of Colonists (1774)

Declaration of the People Against Governor Berkeley

Original Letter of Caesar Rodney, dated July 4, 1776, Describing the Voting of Independence

Manuscript Essay of James Iredell Stating the Rights of the Colonists

Jefferson’s Draft of the Declaration of Independence (June 11-28, 1776)

Original Letter of Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane Transmitting Certified Copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation to the King of Prussia (Feb. 14, 1777)

Copy of the Declaration of Independence Attested and Signed by Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane

A Contemporary Manuscript Copy of the Articles of Confederation Attested and Signed by Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane

Paine’s “Common Sense” (1776)

“The Crisis” by Thomas Paine (1776)

Paul Revere’s Original Commission as Official Messenger

Original Orders of the Continental Congress Increasing the Powers of General Washington


Letter of George Washington to Gouverneur Morris Describing Conditions of Winter Headquarters in 1780

The Treaty of Paris (1783)

President Washington’s “To Bigotry No Sanction” Letter

Roger Williams’ Statement on Religious Freedom

Jefferson’s Bill for Religious Freedom (1784)

The Bay Psalm Book

The Federalist (1788)

John Jay’s Original Corrected Manuscript Draft of Federalist Paper No. 5

The Virginia Plan of the Constitution of the United States (1787)

Washington’s Own Copy of the Constitution (1787)

Journal of the Constitutional Convention Showing Entry for August 20, 1787, When the Habeas Corpus Clause Was Suggested for Inclusion in the Constitution

Draft Report of the Committee of Detail of the Constitutional Convention Showing Earliest Provisions for Trial by Jury as Part of the Constitution of the United States (August 1787)

Pennsylvania’s Ratification of the Federal Constitution (1789)

The Bill of Rights (1789)

George Mason’s Draft of the Declaration of Rights to Be Proposed by the Virginia Convention as Amendments to the Constitution of the United States (June 1788)

Official Manuscript List of Proposed Amendments Protecting Civil Liberties Submitted by Virginia with her Ratification of the Constitution (1789)

Congress’ Working Drafts of the First Amendments to the Constitution – The Bill of Rights (1789)

Congressional Resolution That President Submit First Proposed Amendments to States (1789)

Virginia’s Ratification of the Bill of Rights (1791)

Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to James Madison Commenting on the Proposed Constitution of the United States and His Regret at the Omission of a Bill of Rights (December 20, 1787)

James Madison’s Letter to Thomas Jefferson Noting That Madison Had Introduced Resolutions for the Amendment of the Constitution of the United States Which Would Guarantee Basic Personal Rights (June 13, 1789)


Alexander Hamilton’s Original Manuscript Outline of Subjects of Part of “The Federalist” (1788)

Alexander Hamilton’s Original Manuscript Draft of His “Report on the Public Credit” (1790)

Alexander Hamilton’s Original Manuscript Draft of George Washington’s Farewell Address (July 1796)

William Colbreath’s Manuscript Account of the First Known Military Raising of the American Flag (August 3, 1777)

Original Manuscript of “The Star Spangled Banner”

Washington’s Revolutionary War Account Book Written in His Own Hand (1775-83)

Washington’s Farewell Address (Sept. 1796)

Abraham Lincoln’s Draft of the Emancipation Proclamation (July 14, 1862)

The Emancipation Proclamation

Senate Version of Joint Resolution Proposing Amendment to Abolish Slavery (1864)

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (November 19, 1863)

Letter of Henry Laurens of South Carolina Attacking Slavery (August 14, 1776)

General Robert E. Lee’s Letter Accepting the Presidency of Washington College (August 24, 1865)

Abraham Lincoln’s Baltimore Address (April 18, 1864)

Petition of the National Women’s Suffrage Association to Congress (1873)

Petition of Matilda Hindman Asking Congress Not to Disenfranchise Utah Woman (1874)

The Nineteenth Amendment – The Joint Resolution of Congress Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution Extending the Right of Suffrage to Women (1919)

The Northwest Ordinance (1787)

Letter from president McKinley to William Howard Taft, President of the Philippine Commission (1900)

Proclamation of the Independence of the Philippines, Signed by President Harry S. Truman (1946)

Letter of President Theodore Roosevelt to Secretary of War William Howard Taft in Regard to Keeping Our Promise to Get Out of Cuba (1907)


Proclamation of Richard P. Leary, Naval Governor of the Isle of Guam, Abolishing Slavery and Peonage (1900)

Deborah Gannett’s Deposition in Her Claim for a Pension for Revolutionary War Service (1818)

Benjamin Franklin’s Own Epitaph in His Own Hand

Mirabeau’s Tribute to Franklin (June 11, 1790)

The Thanks of the Congress of the United States to the French Nation (March 2, 1791)

Jefferson’s Letter of June 17, 1785, from Paris to James Monroe Praising America

Letter of John Jay to John Trumbull in Which Is Coined the Word “Americanize” (October 1797)

Original Letter in Siamese from King Mongkut of Siam Offering to Send a Gift of Elephants to the President of the United States (1861)

Andrew Jackson’s Letter to the Secretary of War Describing the Battle of New Orleans (1815)

Logbook of the U. S. Frigate “Constitution” (1815)

Eleven Original Treasury Bonds Dating from 1779 Through 1947

Letter of December 28, 1908, from Secretary of State Elihu Root to President Theodore Roosevelt and the President’s Message to Congress on January 4, 1909, Regarding the Remission of Boxer Indemnity Funds

Land Script Issued to New York for the Establishment of a College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (1862)

John Peter Zenger’s New-York Weekly Journal, Issue No. 48 (September 1734)

John Peter Zenger’s New-York Weekly Journal No. 55 (November 25, 1734)

John Peter Zenger’s New-York Weekly Journal No. 93 (August 18, 1735)

Benjamin Franklin’s Editorial on Zenger Printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette, 1737

The North Briton, No. 45 (April 23, 1763)

Alton Trials (New York, 1838)

An Essay on the Liberty of the Press by George Hay (Philadelphia, 1799)

John Milton’s “Areopagitica” (1644)

Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to Thomas Seymour (February 11, 1807)

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington (January 16, 1787)

Original Typescript Draft of the Covenant of the League of Nations (1918)

Declaration by the United Nations (1942)

The United Nations Charter (1945)

Proclamation of an Unlimited National Emergency (May 27, 1941)

The Selection of General Eisenhower as Supreme Commander of the Allied Invasion of Western Europe

Agreement for the Invasion of Western Europe

Congratulations from the Secretary of War to the Supreme Commander

Last Message from Corregidor

“Merry Christmas” from Bastogne

Admiral Spruance Reports on Operations at Iwo Jima

Admiral Halsey’s Report on Naval Action in Philippine Waters

Admiral Nimitz’ Battle Report of Midway

Personal Report of General Stilwell to General Marshall (January 28, 1944)

Secretary of the Navy Knox Praises The United States Marine Corps

President Roosevelt’s Tribute to Captain Colin Kelly

General Clark’s Victory Message

Instrument of Surrender of Japanese Forces in the Philippine Islands

Surrender of Japanese Forces on Truk

Germany Surrenders Unconditionally

Surrender of Japanese Forces on Wake Island

Surrender of Japanese Forces in The Ryukyus

Log of the “USS Missouri” – Japanese Surrender after World War II

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