History Highlights of the Forty & Eight
In March of 1920, Joseph W. Breen, a member of the newly formed American Legion and an officer of Breen-McCracken Legion Post 297, met in Philadelphia with fifteen other prominent Legionnaires where they originated the idea of The Forty & 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 the First World War, 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 Societe des Quarente 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 “40/8” cargo capacity sign emblazoned on each French boxcar that had carried American doughboys to the front, and also the "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 & 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 (President of the Railroad).
The new Forty & 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 & Eight to the nation and to other Legionnaires. A railroad box car was rented and in it the Forty & Eight delegation rode the rails to the Cleveland 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 & Eight.