National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation

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President Barack Obama pardoned a wild turkey called "Courage" that was presented by the National Turkey Federation on November 25, 2009.

National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation is a ceremony that takes place at the White House every year shortly before Thanksgiving. The President of the United States is presented with a live domestic turkey, usually of the Broad Breasted White variety. Generally the National Turkey Federation and the Poultry and Egg National Board are involved. The ceremony dates back to the 1940s, with presidents occasionally sparing the bird presented to them; since 1989, during George H. W. Bush's first Thanksgiving as president, it has been an annual tradition for the president to "pardon" the turkey.[1]


President Harry S. Truman receiving a non-pardoned Thanksgiving turkey (this one a Bronze) from members of the Poultry and Egg National Board and other representatives of the turkey industry, outside the White House on November 16, 1949.

The presentation of a turkey to the President each year began in 1947 under President Harry Truman, and many sources erroneously attribute the origin of the turkey pardon to Truman. However, the Truman Library says that no documents, speeches, newspaper clippings, photographs or other contemporary records are known to exist that specify that he ever "pardoned" a turkey; there are records that he publicly admitted to eating at least some of them.[1][2] The Eisenhower Presidential Library says documents in their collection reveal that President Dwight Eisenhower ate the birds presented to him during his two terms. President John F. Kennedy spontaneously spared a turkey on Nov. 18, 1963, just four days before his assassination. The bird was wearing a sign reading, "Good Eatin' Mr. President." Kennedy returned the massive 55-pound turkey to the farm, saying "we'll let this one grow."[3] At least one headline in the Los Angeles Times referred to it as a pardon, but Kennedy did not formally refer to it as such.[4] Likewise, Richard Nixon also spared some of the turkeys given to him during his time as President.[5]

The first President on record issuing a "pardon" to his turkey was Ronald Reagan, who pardoned a turkey named Charlie and sent him to a petting zoo in 1987. The reference to it being a pardon was in response to criticism over the Iran-Contra affair, in which Reagan had been questioned on whether or not he would consider pardoning Oliver North (who had yet to be tried for his involvement in the affair); Reagan conjured the turkey pardon as a joke to deflect those questions.[1][6] Reagan did not pardon a turkey in his final year as President in 1988, but his successor, George H. W. Bush, instituted the turkey pardon as a permanent part of the presentation beginning his first year in office, 1989. Since then, at least one of the turkeys presented to the President has been taken to a farm where it will live out the rest of its natural life. For many years the turkeys were sent to Frying Pan Park in Fairfax County, Virginia. From 2005 to 2009, the pardoned turkeys were sent to either the Disneyland Resort in California or the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, where they served as the honorary grand marshals of Disney's Thanksgiving Day Parade. In 2010, 2011 and 2012,[7] the turkeys were sent to live at Mount Vernon, the estate and home of George Washington; Mount Vernon stopped displaying and accepting the turkeys due to the fact that they violated the estate's policy of maintaining its own historical accuracy (Washington never farmed turkeys). The 2013 and 2014 turkeys were sent to Morven Park in Leesburg, Virginia, the estate of former Virginia governor (and prolific turkey farmer) Westmoreland Davis.[8]

Selection process[edit]

The turkeys are raised in the same fashion as turkeys designated for slaughter and are fed a grain-heavy diet of fortified corn and soybeans to increase the birds' size.[8] A flock of approximately 80 birds, typically from the farm of the current National Turkey Federation chairperson, are randomly selected "at birth" from thousands for pardoning and are trained to handle loud noises, flash photography and large crowds; from the flock of 80, the 20 largest and best-behaved are chosen and eventually narrowed down to two finalists, whose names are chosen by the White House staff.[9] Because most Thanksgiving turkeys are bred and raised for size at the expense of longer life, they are prone to health problems associated with obesity such as heart disease, respiratory failure and joint damage. As a result of these factors, most of the pardoned turkeys have very short lives after their pardoning, frequently dying within a year of being pardoned;[8][10] for comparison, a wild or heritage turkey has a lifespan of at least five years.[11]

List of turkeys pardoned[edit]

President Barack Obama grants the traditional turkey pardon to Liberty during the ceremony at the North Portico of the White House on November 23, 2011. Liberty was one of the few to survive more than a year after being pardoned.

Clinton Presidency[edit]

  • 2000: "Jerry the Turkey", a 45-pounder hatched 2000-06-05 near Barron in Wisconsin. The pardoned turkey (the eighth in Clinton's presidency) and its unnamed alternate were both sent to Kidwell Farm's petting zoo in Herndon, Virginia.[12]

George W. Bush Presidency[edit]

  • 2001: Liberty and his back-up Freedom, so named in the wake of 9/11 attacks. They weighed 48 and 52 pounds, respectively.[13]
  • 2002: Katie, the first-ever female turkey pardoned. The 30-pound bird bred by Ron Prestage, Chairman of the National Turkey Federation, as well as alternate bird Zack. The turkeys were named after Prestage's children.[14]
  • 2003: Stars and backup Stripes. [15]
  • 2004: Biscuits and backup Gravy.
  • 2005: Marshmallow and alternate bird Yam, raised in Henning, Minnesota. Beginning in 2005 pardoned birds were sent to Disneyland to live, and serve as the "honorary grand marshal" of that year's thanksgiving day parade, following concerns raised by animal rights groups that the birds had not survived for long. For the previous 15 years they had been sent to Frying Pan Park near Herndon, Virginia.[16] Names were generally chosen in online votes taken at the White House website.
  • 2006: Flyer and alternate bird Fryer, raised in Missouri.[17]
  • 2007: 45-pound May and backup Flower, raised in Indiana.[18]
  • 2008: 45-pound backup "vice" turkey named Pumpkin, after the number one turkey Pecan fell ill the night before the ceremony. Both turkeys were allowed to live.[19][20]

Obama Presidency[edit]

  • 2009: Courage, a 45-pound turkey provided by the National Turkey Federation, and alternate bird Carolina, raised in North Carolina.[21]
  • 2010: Apple, a 45-pound turkey from Foster Farms in Modesto, California; and alternate bird Cider.[22] Both had died of natural causes by Thanksgiving 2011.[10]
  • 2011: A 45-pound turkey named Liberty and an alternate bird named Peace, both of which were raised in Willmar, Minnesota.[23] Peace survived until shortly before Thanksgiving 2012, when he was euthanized.[24] Liberty survived until being euthanized April 26, 2013 at the age of 2.[25]
  • 2012: Cobbler and Gobbler, both 40-pound turkeys from Rockingham County, Virginia.[26][27] Gobbler died suddenly in February 2013; Cobbler was euthanized on August 22 of that year.[3][25]
  • 2013: Popcorn, a 38 pounds (17 kg) turkey from Badger, Minnesota. Popcorn won an online contest over its identically sized stablemate Caramel, which was also spared.[28] Popcorn died of heatstroke in summer 2014. Caramel survived much longer; it outlived one of the next year's turkeys and did not die until October 2015, spending most of its two years of life at Morven Park as the companion of a brown heritage turkey named Franklin.[29][30]
  • 2014: Cheese and alternate bird Mac, both of which were 48 pounds (22 kg) turkeys from Fort Recovery, Ohio.[31][32] Mac died of suspected heatstroke in July of 2015; Cheese remains alive as of November 2015, with the surviving Franklin as its companion.[30]
  • 2015: Abe, a 43 pounds (20 kg) turkey again presented by Foster Farms. The alternate was 42 pounds (19 kg) Honest.[33][34]

State ceremonies[edit]

A number of U.S. states have similar turkey-pardoning events, including Minnesota.[35] The pardoning ceremonies have also been extended to other holidays; for instance, Erie County, New York's county executive facetiously pardons a butter lamb during Holy Week.[36]

Popular culture[edit]

In The West Wing episode "Shibboleth," when C.J. learns the alternate turkey is to be slaughtered, she appeals to President Bartlet to save it. He drafts the turkey into military service to spare its life. In real life, both the turkey and the alternate are spared.



  1. ^ a b c Hesse, Monica. 2007. Turkey Pardons, The Stuffing of Historic Legend. The Washington Post, November 21. (accessed November 22, 2007).
  2. ^ Edwards, Cynthia. 2003. Did Truman pardon a Turkey? (accessed November 24, 2007).
  3. ^ a b Bruce, Mary (November 22, 2013). Obama pardons turkeys ... then they die. ABC News. Retrieved November 23, 2013.
  4. ^ Presidential turkey pardons not as long a history as you might think. NBC News. Retrieved November 29, 2013.
  5. ^ Lee, Jolie (Novbember 25, 2014). Thanksgiving traditions: Turkey pardoning explained. USA Today. Retrieved November 25, 2014.
  6. ^ The actual, surprising origin of presidential turkey pardoning. MSNBC. November 25, 2015.
  7. ^ [1] NTF Chairman Presents President Obama with the National Thanksgiving Turkey]. National Turkey Federation. Retrieved February 20, 2013.
  8. ^ a b c Merica, Dan (November 27, 2013). Where pardoned turkeys go to die. CNN. Retrieved March 24, 2014.
  9. ^ 10 things you didn't know about Presidential turkey pardons. Time. Retrieved November 29, 2013.
  10. ^ a b Fox, Lauren (November 23, 2011). 2010 Turkeys Pardoned By Obama Died This Year. U.S. News. Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  11. ^ "Definition of a Heritage Turkey". American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Retrieved 2008-07-20. 
  12. ^ Staff and Wire Reports (2000-11-22). "Clinton spares 'Jerry' the turkey in annual Thanksgiving rite". CNN. 
  13. ^ Bijal P. Trivedi (2001-11-20). "Where Do Turkeys Go After Being Pardoned by the President?". National Geographic. 
  14. ^ Elisabeth Bumiller (2002-11-27). "In New Spin on Tradition, Turkey Pardon Goes to 'Katie'". New York Times. 
  15. ^ "Pardoned turkeys may not live happily ever after". cnn. 2002-11-26. 
  16. ^ "Bush sends pardoned turkeys to Disneyland". New Zealand Herald. 2005-11-23. 
  17. ^ "Bush Pardons Turkeys, But PETA Wants Better After-Care". Fox News. 2006-11-22. 
  18. ^ "Bush Gobbles Up Tradition In Turkey Pardon:Turkeys Head To Disney World". KERO. 2007-11-20. 
  19. ^ "Bush pardons Thanksgiving turkey". Associated Press. 2008-11-26. 
  20. ^ Manuel Roig-Franzia (2008-11-27). "Thankfully, Bush Never Had an Ax To Grind". Washington Post. 
  21. ^ Peter Grier (2009-11-25). "Obama pardons ‘Courage,’ the Thanksgiving turkey". Christian Science Monitor. 
  22. ^ Heim, Joe (2010-11-25). "At White House, President Obama's pardons prevent turkeys' 'shellacking'". The Washington Post. 
  23. ^ Boyer, Dave (November 23, 2011). Obama pardons turkey — unilaterally. The Washington Times. Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  24. ^ Ahlers, Mike (November 21, 2012). Pardoned turkey's death untimely? Only to the naive. Retrieved November 21, 2012.
  25. ^ a b Schwab, Nikki (November 19, 2013). All of President Obama's pardoned turkeys are dead. U.S. News. Retrieved November 23, 2013.
  26. ^ Obama to pardon Thanksgiving turkey. Associated Press. Retrieved November 21, 2012.
  27. ^ President Obama Pardons Turkey. United Press International, Inc. Retrieved November 21, 2012.
  28. ^ Jackson, David (November 27, 2013). "Obama pardons Thanksgiving turkey (and tells jokes)". USA Today. Retrieved November 27, 2013. 
  29. ^ Turkey Pardoned From Death By Obama Last Year Is Still Gobbling Up The Good Life. The Huffington Post. Retrieved November 25, 2014.
  30. ^ a b Klein, Kerry (November 25, 2015). The Post-Pardon Life of the Presidential Turkey. The Atlantic. Retrieved November 25, 2015.
  31. ^ Decision 2014 redux: Ohio turkey farmers narrow down choice birds for presidential pardon. New York Daily News. Retrieved November 25, 2014.
  32. ^ Kim, Eun Kyung (November 26, 2014). No Thanksgiving Mac and Cheese: Obama pardons turkeys in annual ritual. Today. Retrieved November 26, 2014.
  33. ^ Wolf, Ali (November 20, 2015). Meet the Modesto Turkey Chosen for Presidential Pardon. Fox 40 Sacramento. Retrieved November 20, 2015.
  34. ^ Turkey pardon saves Honest, Abe: Obama saves birds in time for Thanksgiving. Today. Retrieved November 25, 2015.
  35. ^ Cassie Crowe & Becky Nahm (2009-11-24). "Turkey Celebrates Pardon at State Capitol". kstp. 
  36. ^ Erie County Executive Pardons Butter Lamb. WGRZ (April 16, 2014). Retrieved April 16, 2014.

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