History of

The Forty and Eight 




In March of 1920, Joseph W. Breen, a member of the newly formed American Legion and an officer of Breen-McCracken American Legion Post 297, met in Philadelphia with fifteen other prominent Legionnaires where they originated the idea of The Forty and Eight.  They envisioned a new and different level of elite membership and camaraderie for leaders of the American Legion.  The box car of the French railways, so familiar to American ground troops of World War I was chosen as the symbolic heart of the new organization.  The French railroad theme was applied to officer titles and organizational functions.

The organization was named La Société des Quarante Hommes et Huit Chevaux (The Society of Forty Men and Eight Horses).  Its members were called Voyageurs Militaire (military travelers) and candidates for membership were called Prisonniers de Guerre (Prisoners of War).  The cargo capacity sign “40 Hommes/8 Chevaux” emblazoned on each French boxcar that carried American doughboys to the front, and  "French horizon blue" color, became symbols of the new society.  An initiation ceremony was developed based on the common wartime experiences of American soldiers, sailors and marines, incorporating fun making with patriotic bonding.

The first statewide Forty and Eight Promenade (meeting) was held in June, 1920, following the 2nd Annual Convention of the American Legion’s Department of Pennsylvania.  Several prominent Legionnaires were wrecked (initiated) and Joseph W. Breen was unanimously elected Chef de Chemin de Fer (Chief of the Railroad).  

The new Forty and Eight organization agreed to send a delegation to the Legion’s national convention in Cleveland, Ohio, with as much fanfare as possible in order to introduce the Forty and Eight to the nation and to other Legionnaires.  A railroad box car was rented, and in it, the Forty and Eight delegation rode the rails to the Cleveland American Legion convention.  This publicity stunt gained substantial news coverage for the energetic new elite organization.  In Cleveland more than 700 Legionnaires became members of the Forty and Eight. 



During the Forty and Eight’s Promenade Nationale (national convention) in Kansas City, a national constitution was adopted and a national headquarters was established in Seattle, Washington.


During the Promenade Nationale in New Orleans, a Children’s Welfare project was established, with monies to be raised via an annual assessment of 50 cents from dues collections, to be used for the care of orphaned children.



The National Headquarters of the Forty and Eight was moved to Indianapolis.  The Forty and Eight was integrated as an equal partner with The American Legion and The American Legion Auxiliary, all with common interests in Child Welfare.  Forty and Eight Welfare Program funds ($24,823.91) were safely invested to grow to meet future needs.  A joint policy committee of members from all three organizations was established. 




During the 6th Promenade Nationale, in Omaha, Nebraska, $25,000.00 was set aside to establish a Child Welfare Fund. (This was a precursor to today’s Charles W. Ardery Child Welfare Trust). 



At Promenade Nationale in Philadelphia, Forty and Eight membership was reported to be 32,449.

A major focus of discussion was the growth of American Legion membership, which had previously been declining annually since the Legion’s inception.  Much of the Legion’s new growth was attributed to extraordinary recruiting efforts by The Forty and Eight’s Voyageurs who had brought in more than 17,000 new members for the American Legion.  Voyageur William Mundt of Voiture 24, Bloomington, Illinois, was recognized for having signed up 509 new Legion members. 



Forty and Eight programs expanded in concert with The American Legion.  Membership, Child Welfare, Junior Baseball, Americanism and Emergency Relief became key Forty and Eight programs.  Annual donations continued to the Child Welfare Fund, with $18,960 earmarked for 1928.  Additionally, Voitures Locaux devised their own charitable programs, such as Voiture 220 of Chicago sponsoring a youth summer camp.

During the depression years, The Forty and Eight and The American Legion grew steadily.  Forty and Eight Voyageurs enrolled 27,000 new members in the Legion during 1928-1929, and were instrumental in helping The American Legion to pass the one million members mark.



The Forty and Eight declared War on Childhood Diphtheria.  Vaccination toxin was distributed via Voiture Nationale to children whose parents could not afford it.  Physicians donated their services, and educational campaigns were carried out to combat the disease.

From 1932 through 1936, The Forty and Eight sought to influence Congress regarding veteran's benefits.  These were the “Bonus March” Depression years when WWI veterans and the federal government were at times in open conflict.  The Forty and Eight sponsored national radio programs, featuring well known political figures, to bring equitable treatment of war veterans to the national forefront.  Realizing that power came with numbers, The Forty and Eight brought in 111,159 new American Legion members.  The efforts of The Forty and Eight ultimately helped convince Congress to pass, over a presidential veto, the compensation act for America’s war veterans. 



The 17th Promenade Nationale was held in Cleveland with a huge parade lasting nearly three hours.  Membership reached 34,809. 



The Forty and Eight began sponsoring Boys State in 20 states.  Charitable efforts increased as Voitures provided negative pressure ventilators (iron lungs) for polio victims, sponsored anti-juvenile delinquency programs, and supported Legion Baseball and Scouting. 



During World War II, The Forty and Eight rolled up its sleeves.  While continuing to support its existing charitable and patriotic programs, The Forty and Eight expanded its efforts to meet wartime needs.  Individual Forty and Eight members volunteered for military service, served as air raid wardens and in other civil defense capacities, aided in salvage drives, bond drives, blood drives, visited hospitals, and helped recruiting efforts for the Armed Services.

The Forty and Eight made a special effort to ensure every serviceman on transport ships overseas had a deck of cards.  Over 60,000 decks were initially distributed, 610,498 decks in the second year, and a million decks in 1943-1944.  Ultimately, over 4 million decks of card were distributed.

The Forty and Eight also began issuing Nursing Scholarships.  By September of 1942, over 100 nurses had received education grants.  

Increasing American Legion membership was deemed vital to organizing veterans to help the war effort.  The Forty and Eight exceeded its goals by gaining 211,301 new Legion members, thereby helping to bring the American Legion to an all-time high in membership.



The 25th Anniversary of The Forty and Eight coincided with the end of World War II.

The organization began a new program to provide free telephone calls home for returning wounded servicemen.  This successful program was seeded by Grande du Kentucky contributing $50,000 and Grande du Indiana providing $39,000.  With the end of rationing and travel restrictions, Forty and Eight members were able to meet more frequently.

Over two hundred veteran organizations sprouted up across the country. The Veteran population was booming.  The Forty and Eight brought more than half a million new members to The American Legion.  The Forty and Eight continued to bring influential Legionnaires together from various posts, thus strengthening unity within the Legion.  The Forty and Eight membership exceeded 70,000.

The Forty and Eight annual contribution to the Legion’s Child Welfare Fund continued throughout the war.  Due to an increase in numbers of World War II veteran's children, The Forty and Eight increased its annual Child Welfare contribution to $30,000 in 1945 and to $50,000 in 1946. 



The Forty and Eight began its long association with the Hanson’s Disease (leprosy) research hospital in Carville, Louisiana, by funding all publication costs for the hospital’s patient-published magazine "The Star".  The Forty and Eight purchased a printing press and other equipment to help the patients carry on “their fight against the ignorance which surrounds this disease."

The Forty and Eight membership rose to 95,000. 


The Forty and Eight welcomed The Merci Train, also known as the French Gratitude Train.

 The Merci Train was the 1949 Europe to U.S. response to the 1947 Friendship Train, which collected foodstuffs from American donors for transport to the struggling people of post war France and Italy.

 The Merci Train, composed of 49 cars, and filled with "gifts of gratitude"; the Merci Train arrived in New York City on February 3, 1949, and was divided amongst the 48 states with the remaining car to be shared by the District of Columbia and Hawaii. 

Donations from the Merci Train came from over six million citizens of France and Italy in the form of dolls, statues, clothes, ornamental objects, art, and furniture.


The Forty and Eight, being an elite corps of American veterans with its symbol being the WWI French boxcar, was instrumental in welcoming these Merci Train boxcars.  Voyageurs in each state participated in ceremonies, and in many states took responsibility for maintaining the boxcar in museum or display settings.



The Forty and Eight formally established its Nurses Training program.


1959 (1960)

The Forty and Eight severed ties with the American Legion and became an independent organization. 

There had been ripples of discontent for several years.  The organizations were fundamentally different.  The American Legion was large, easy to join and non-fraternal.  The Forty and Eight was elite, by-invitation only and racially restrictive.  The Forty and Eight had monetary resources many in the Legion deemed theirs.  Conversely, The Forty and Eight objected to funding Legion programs with large amounts of money without adequate recognition in return.  The Legion pressed The Forty and Eight to change its constitution to be racially inclusive.  These differences brought the two organizations to an impass.  Eventually, the American Legion refused to allow The Forty and Eight to hold its Promenade Nationale in the same city as the American Legion National Convention.

The Forty and Eight thus became independent, but with many vestiges of its parent organization remaining intact. Including the prerequisite of American Legion membership.



The Nurses Training Program sponsored 2,129 nurses for a total of $248,047 in scholarships.

 La Société de Femme, a fraternal organization of women is formed by female relatives of Forty and Eight members. This non-political, non-sectarian organization was formed for the sole purpose of supporting the programs and principles of La Société des Quarante Hommes et Huit Chevaux.  Cabanes (units) were formed in 15 states with over 1,000 initial members.  



Recognizing that its previous donations to the Legion’s Child Welfare Fund had amounted to over 1.2 million dollars, The Forty and Eight established the new Charles W. Ardery Child Welfare Fund as an irrevocable trust, seeded it with $300,000 and drew up rules governing the dispersal of its funds as reimbursements to Locale Voitures for rendering aid/assistance in their communities.

Other programs listed for the year were; Flag Education, Memorial Day Programs, Boys State, Girls State, Scouting and the Christmas Tree of Lights program.



At the Promenade Nationale in Baltimore, Maryland, it was announced that 51 Voitures had aided 770,086 children with a total Child Welfare expenditure value of $2,690,296. 



The Charles W. Ardery Child Welfare Trust Fund granted over $400,000.  The trust’s growth was attributed in part to a 50 cent assessment for Child Welfare in the annual dues of each members.



The Ardery Trust Fund presented a $10,000 grant to the University of Kentucky for research into Cystic Fibrosis.  A $4,363 grant was made to the University of Illinois for research into the causes of Childhood Diabetes.  Total Ardery trust expenditures for the year were over $37,000. 


1973 (1974)

The Forty and Eight, by a vote of 1,280 to 467, amended its constitution to prohibit any Voiture from restricting its membership on the basis of race.

A nationwide gas shortage made it difficult for many to travel to the proposed 55th Promenade National in Anaheim, California. The Promenade site was changed to St. Louis, Missouri.  

A Child Welfare grant of $10,000 was made to the University of Wisconsin for Juvenile Diabetes research.  The Nurses Training program reported 2,475 nurses received financial help, with $291,000 spent on nursing grants. 



The Forty and Eight established the George Boland Nurses Training Trust Fund, with a $100,000 startup grant, in honor of Nebraska’s George B. Boland, who had served as Chef de Chemin de Fer in 1952 and as Avocat National (national attorney) for many years.



The Forty and Eight established the Outstanding Law Officer of the Year award program.  John C. Wodetzki, Chief of Police of Lincoln, Illinois, was selected as the first recipient of the award. 


1978 - 1979 

The Charles W. Ardery Child Welfare Trust Fund granted $15,600 to the National Jewish Hospital in Denver to purchase special medical equipment.  A second grant of $10,000 was made to Children's Hospital of St. Petersburg, Florida for Newborn Intensive Care Unit equipment.  $16,600 was granted to Saint Jude Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, to purchase a new spectrophotometer.  $6,329,276 was reported expended in money, materials, mileage and man hours throughout The Forty and Eight for the Child Welfare program.

Voyageurs contributed a total of 6,481 pints of blood.  The Carville Star program had 100 percent participation and contributions exceeded $93,000. 



The Forty and Eight began its partnership in the Veterans Administration Voluntary Service program.  By 1985, Voyageurs were participating in 230 medical facilities serving veterans.



The Forty and Eight adopted, as a Child Welfare subsidiary program, AAU/USA Junior Olympics. 



The Forty and Eight revised its Preamble to reflect its charitable, non-profit nature. --- ”For God and country we associate ourselves together for the following purposes: To create a charitable and non-profit veterans organization; to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America; to assist and promote the welfare and well-being of those who served in the Armed Forces of the United States, during all wars and conflicts, recognized the Congress of the United States, and their widows and orphans; to participate in all memorial services for and to be part in and to encourage others to participate in the proper observance of all days honoring veterans' to preserve the memories of our Services in the Armed Forces of our Country; to actively participate within our membership in projects relating to (a) the welfare of the children of America; (b) the health of our Nation by fostering a nurses training program; and (c) selected charitable endeavors." 



In response to hurricanes in Florida, The Forty and Eight responded with donations of clothing, household goods and medical supplies.  In Florida City alone, 255 children were provided food vouchers, clothing and household goods and $11,000 was granted to needy families.  Relief teams of Voyageurs traveled into disaster areas to distribute clothing and supplies.  In Hawaii, where a hurricane had come ashore on Kauai, the Ardery Trust assisted 80 children.

The Forty and Eight’s Flags for First Graders program is found to be popular among Voyageurs who conduct flag education programs in elementary schools.  The program is responsible for educating thousands of American youth in the flag history, respect and protocol.



In addition, to conducting its many ongoing charitable program efforts, The Forty and Eight assisted victims of natural disasters in Michigan and Missouri.  $30,000 in aid was given to families of children in flooded areas.  A $3,070 grant was given to the Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Children's Home.  Voyageurs of Washington state were applauded for contributing in excess of $150,000 annually (since 1985) to charitable projects in their community.



This year marked both the 100th year founding of the Gillis W. Long Hanson's Disease Center (leprosy research) in Carville, Louisiana, and the 50th anniversary of The Forty and Eight’s sponsorship of the patient-published Carville “Star” Magazine.

The Forty and Eight established a national Youth Sports program, to encompass and expand beyond the narrower scope of the existing Junior Olympics program.



The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon occurred one day before The Forty and Eight Promenade Nationale was scheduled to begin in Hagerstown, Maryland, not far from Camp David.  Terrorists crashed a civilian airliner just north of town.  Voyageurs already at Hagerstown were briefly isolated by security forces.  Many Voyageurs and spouses were stranded at airports, some were mid-air during the attacks, and several found it impossible to reach Hagerstown.  The organization voted total support for America in its war on terror.

The Forty and Eight immediately began around-the-clock delivery of relief goods to New York and Washington, D.C.  215 tons of relief goods valuing $881,000 were reported delivered in the aftermath of the attacks.  11 trips by truck we made over 24 days to “ground zero” in NYC.



Women veterans become eligible to join The Forty and Eight.  Like their male counterparts, women too must be members of the American Legion and be invited to join The Forty and Eight.

The debate on this issue was between honoring the all-male past that created the founders of this organization and honoring today's male-and-female combat veterans who make up America's modern military.  It was decided that the best way to honor the past, is by recognizing all of America’s veterans.



The Promenade National brought a major change to the Constitution of La Société. With two-thirds of the members at the Promenade Nationale in Orlando, Florida voting in the affirmative; the prerequisite for American Legion membership was abolished.  All honorably discharged American veterans and active duty U.S. service members are eligible for membership.

Formal invitation by a member in good standing remains a requirement.



The Promenade National brought change to the Constitution of La Société. Wishing to more accurately reflect the demographics of our membership, a new preamble was approved:

"For God and country we associate ourselves together for the following purposes:  To create a charitable and non-profit veterans organization; to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America; to assist and promote the welfare and well-being of those who have served or are now serving in the Armed Forces of the United States and their widows, widowers and orphans; to participate in all memorial services for and to be present at the funerals of departed comrades; to take part in and encourage others to participate in the proper observance of all days honoring veterans; to preserve the memories of our Service in the Armed Forces of our Country; to actively participate within our membership in projects relating to (a) the welfare of the children of America; (b) the health of our Nation by fostering a nurses training program; and (c) selected charitable endeavors."