The presidential pardon of the Thanksgiving turkey has become an annual event, but the peace pact between the fowl and the White House is a relatively new thing. And in fact, a few presidents actually ate their guests!
The first president to unofficially pardon a turkey was Abraham Lincoln, who instructed the White House to save a bird given to the president. Lincoln’s son had grown fond of the bird (and the president was a big animal lover).
But Lincoln didn’t start a tradition, and neither did President Harry S. Truman, who is often credited as the father of the presidential turkey pardon. (
N ational Constitution Center)
Here’s a look back from Truman to Trump.
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President Harry S. Truman squints as he fingers the wattle of a 35-pound Tom turkey from Oregon as it is presented to him, in the White House Rose Garden on Nov. 18, 1952. The turkey, intended for the president’s last Thanksgiving in the White House, was made by representatives of the Poultry and Egg National Board and the National Turkey Federation. At right is Loren Johnson, of Corvallis, Ore., one of the group making the presentation. (Photo: Henry Griffin/AP)
President Eisenhower (left) seems highly pleased with the 43-pound Kentucky colonel turkey from the blue-grass state, presented to him at the White House by Peary Browning (right) of Winchester, Kentucky, president of the National Turkey Federation on Nov. 17, 1954. The Thanksgiving bird was selected from a flock of 100,000 at Browning’s farm. (Photo: Bettmann/Corbis/Getty Images)
President Eisenhower rests his hand on the 40-pound, broad-breasted Tom turkey presented to him today for his Thanksgiving dinner by the National Turkey Foundation. Said the pleased President: “Gosh. It’s a big one.” From left: Pres. Eisenhower; Leslie W. Hubbard, Mrs. Hubbard, Mrs. Ezra T. Benson, Sec of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson and J. Arza Adams, President of the Foundation on Nov. 19, 1956. (Photo: Bettmann/Corbis/Getty Images)
President Kennedy admires a 55-pound turkey, which wears a sign reading “Good Eating, Mr. President!” The turkey was intended for the Kennedy’s Thanksgiving dinner; however, the President granted it freedom on Nov. 19, 1963. (Photo: Bettmann/Corbis/Getty Images)
President Lyndon B. Johnson was presented with this 40-pound broad-breasted white Tom Thanksgiving turkey at the White House Nov.16, 1967 in Washington. (Photo: Bettmann/Corbis/Getty Images)
President Richard Nixon gives the annual pardon to a Thanksgiving turkey on Nov.19, 1969 in Washington. (Photo: Wally McNamee/Corbis/Getty Images)
President Gerald R. Ford is presented with a Thanksgiving turkey by the National Turkey Federation on Nov. 20, 1975. (Photo: U.S. National Archives)
Rosalynn Carter and Amy Carter pardoning a turkey on Nov. 21, 1978. (Photo: Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum)
President Ronald Reagan and the annual pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkey on Nov. 21, 1988 in Washington. (Photo: NY Daily News via Getty Images)
President Geroge H.W. Bush gestures during a Rose Garden ceremony Tuesday, Nov. 24, 1992 where he pardoned a Thanksgiving turkey presented by the National Turkey Federation. From left: Chuck Helms, Bruce Cuddy, and Stuart Proctor. (Photo: Ron Edmonds/AP)
President Bill Clinton looks on as Robert Strickler holds Tom, a 50-pound turkey presented to the president in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Nov. 23, 1994. Stuart Proctor, president, National Turkey Federation, second from left, and Larry Fanella of the NTF, second from right, look on. The president pardoned Tom who will take up residence at the Frying Pan Park in Chantilly, Va. (Photo: Wilfredo Lee/AP)
President Bill Clinton, accompanied by Jim Cooper, chairman, National Turkey Federation, laughs while looking at Carl, a 35-pound turkey, wearing a White House visitors pass, which was presented to him at the White House Wednesday Nov. 27, 1996. After the ceremony, the president continued a tradition begun by President Harry Truman 49 years ago by pardoning the turkey and sending it off to life in a Virginia petting farm. (Photo: Doug Mills/AP)
President Bill Clinton, holding his nephew Tyler, 6, grants a “pardon” to a turkey named “Jerry,” from Barron Wis., during the annual Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation at White House, in Washington Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2000. Placing the turkey on the table is Nickolas Feidt, the man who raised it. Standing in the background, from left, are Stuart Proctor, Jr., and Jerry Jerome, chairman of the National Turkey Federation. Clinton’s action in the Rose Garden spared the bird, so he won’t become someone’s meal. It will instead go to a petting zoo in Herndon, Va. ( Photo: Kenneth Lambert/AP)
President George W. Bush reacts to a turkey named “Liberty” at the annual turkey pardoning event at the White House, three days ahead of Thanksgiving on Nov. 19, 2001. The fortunate bird will spend the rest of his days on a farm in Virginia. With the president are turkey industry representatives Jeff Radford (left) and Stuart Proctor. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
President Geroge W. Bush holds “Biscuits” the turkey by the neck as he participated in the pardoning of the national Thanksgiving turkey, Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2004, in the Rose Garden of the White House. (Photo: Ron Edmonds/AP)
President George W. Bush, right, pets “Flyer” the turkey, held by Lynn Nutt, after giving the bird a Thanksgiving pardon in the Rose Garden of the White House on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2006. (Photo: Chuck Kennedy/MCT via Getty Images)
President Barack Obama, with daughters Malia, far right, Sasha, second from the right, pardons the National Thanksgiving Turkey, “Courage,” in a ceremony in the North Portico of the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2009. With Obama is the Chairman of the National Turkey Federation, Walter Pelletier. Woman on left is unidentified. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
President Barack Obama, with daughters Sasha and Malia, pardons “Liberty,” a 19-week old, 45-pound turkey, on the occasion of Thanksgiving, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011, on the North Portico of the White House in Washington. At left is National Turkey Federation Chairman Richard Huisinga. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
President Barack Obama, with daughters Sasha (center) and Malia (right) carries on the Thanksgiving tradition of saving a turkey from the dinner table with a “presidential pardon” at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012. After the ceremony, “Cobbler” will head to George Washington’s historic home in Virginia to be part of the “Christmas at Mount Vernon” exhibition. National Turkey Federation Chairman Steve Willardsen watches at left. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
President Barack Obama is joined by his daughters, Sasha and Malia (R), as they all participate in the annual turkey pardoning ceremony marking the 67th presentation of the National Thanksgiving Turkey while in the White House in Washington, November 26, 2014. (Photo: Larry Downing/Reuters)
President Barack Obama pardons Abe, the National Thanksgiving Turkey, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015, during a ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. This is the 68th anniversary of the National Thanksgiving Turkey presentation. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)
President Barack Obama walks away after pardoning the National Thanksgiving Turkey, Tot, as the president’s nephews Aaron Robinson and Austin Robinson, watch, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016, during a ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
President Donald Trump participates in the 70th National Thanksgiving turkey pardoning ceremony as son Barron and first lady Melania Trump look on in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., Nov. 21, 2017. (Photo: Jim Bourg/Reuters)