Each year since 1947, shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday, the National Turkey Federation and the Poultry and Egg National Board have presented a turkey to the President of the United States in a White House ceremony. For the first 40 years of the tradition, most presidents apparently made the bird a part of the White House Thanksgiving feast.
One exception occurred in 1963, when President John F. Kennedy, looked at the turkey given to him and said, “Let’s just keep him.”
Pardons began under the first President Bush
The first time a Thanksgiving turkey received an official presidential pardon was in the first year of George H.W. Bush’s presidency in 1989. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush continued the pardons during their time in the White House, and we expect President Obama to continue the humane tradition of giving the bird a reprieve.
Out of the Frying Pan and Into Disneyland
From 1989 until 2004 each pardoned turkeyâ€”and its alternate (chosen just in case the first bird is unable to perform its duties)â€”were given to Kidwell Farm, a petting zoo at Frying Pan Park in Herndon, Virginia. In 2005 and 2006, the turkeys were flown to Disneyland where they served as honorary grand marshals for Disneyland’s Thanksgiving Day parade. After that, they happily gobble-gobbled the rest of their days away at a Disneyland ranch.
Last November, President Bush gave two turkeys named Pumpkin and Pecan the traditional last-minute reprieve.
The American public was encouraged to vote for the turkeys’ names on the White House web site beginning in 2004, when the winning names were Biscuit and Gravy; 2005’s were Marshmallow and Yam; followed by Flyer and Fryer in 2006, and May and Flower in 2007.
No word yet on whether the Obama administration will continue the turkey naming contest, but we’ll keep checking.