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The Morning Brew: A brief history of presidential Turkey pardons

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Each year, one lucky turkey enjoys a "presidential pardon." 

But where does this tradition originate?

According to a blog post by Susan Donius, Director of the Office of Presidential Libraries at the National Archives, the tradition first took hold in 1947, when Harry S. Truman presided over a lighthearted live turkey presentation by the Poultry and Egg National Board. 

However — those early birds weren't spared from the dinner table. 

In fact, among our holdings are photos from 1963 and 1967 in which the presentations birds given to John F. Kennedy and later, Lyndon B. Johnson, wear signs that read, “Good Eating Mr. President.”

Senator Everett Dirksen and representatives from the poultry industry and farm organizations present a turkey to President Johnson in the Fish Room of the White House. The turkey has a sign around its neck that says "Good Eating Mr. President.” November 16, 1967. From the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidental Library.
Senator Everett Dirksen and representatives from the poultry industry and farm organizations present a turkey to President Johnson in the Fish Room of the White House. The turkey has a sign around its neck that says "Good Eating Mr. President.” November 16, 1967. From the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidental Library.

Not until 1989 did President George H.W. Bush formally pardon a turkey, according to Donius, the archivist. 

President George H.W. Bush at the annual Pardoning of the Thanksgiving Turkey, 1991 [George H.W. Bush Presidential Library]
President George H.W. Bush at the annual Pardoning of the Thanksgiving Turkey, 1991 [George H.W. Bush Presidential Library]

Luckily for the turkeys, the tradition stuck around. Happy Thanksgiving, all. 

President Barack Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia look in on Mac, one of two turkeys spared this year from the Thanksgiving dinner table by presidential pardon, in the East Room of the White House prior to the annual National Thanksgiving Turkey pardon ceremony, Nov. 26, 2014. [Wikimedia commons White House photo by Pete Souza]
President Barack Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia look in on Mac, one of two turkeys spared this year from the Thanksgiving dinner table by presidential pardon, in the East Room of the White House prior to the annual National Thanksgiving Turkey pardon ceremony, Nov. 26, 2014. [Wikimedia commons White House photo by Pete Souza]
Related Photos
Senator Everett Dirksen and representatives from the poultry industry and farm organizations present a turkey to President Johnson in the Fish Room of the White House. The turkey has a sign around its neck that says "Good Eating Mr. President.” November 16, 1967. From the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidental Library.

Senator Everett Dirksen and representatives from the poultry industry and farm organizations present a turkey to President Johnson in the Fish Room of the White House. The turkey has a sign around its neck that says "Good Eating Mr. President.” November 16, 1967. From the Lyndon B. Johnson...

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Juliana Keeping

Juliana Keeping is on the enterprise reporting team for The Oklahoman and NewsOK.com. Keeping joined the staff of The Oklahoman in 2012. Prior to that time, she worked in the Chicago media at the SouthtownStar, winning a Peter Lisagor Award... Read more ›

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