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.
This is a 40 & 8 folk art piece showing the engine and the 40/8 boxcars. What was its use? I do not know. I do know that it is humorous and earthy at the same time.