President Harry S. Truman fingers the wattle of a 35-pound tom turkey from Oregon in the White House Rose Garden on Nov. 18, 1952. (Photo: Henry Griffin/AP)
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. (
National Constitution Center)
Here’s a look back from Truman to Biden.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower seems highly pleased with the 43-pound Kentucky colonel turkey presented to him at the White House on Nov. 17, 1954. (Photo: Bettmann/Corbis/Getty Images) Eisenhower with the 40-pound, broad-breasted tom turkey presented to him on Nov. 19, 1956. (Photo: Bettmann/Corbis/Getty Images) President John F. Kennedy admires a 55-pound turkey, which wears a sign reading “Good Eating, Mr. President!,” on Nov. 19, 1963. (Photo: Bettmann/Corbis/Getty Images) President Lyndon B. Johnson was presented with this 40-pound broad-breasted white tom turkey on Nov. 16, 1967. (Photo: Bettmann/Corbis/Getty Images) President Richard Nixon gives the annual pardon to a Thanksgiving turkey on Nov. 19, 1969. (Photo: Wally McNamee/Corbis/Getty Images) President Gerald Ford is presented with a Thanksgiving turkey on Nov. 20, 1975. (Photo: U.S. National Archives) First lady Rosalynn Carter and first daughter 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. (Photo: NY Daily News via Getty Images) President George H.W. Bush pardoning a Thanksgiving turkey on Nov. 24, 1992. (Photo: Ron Edmonds/AP) President Bill Clinton looks on as turkey industry executive Robert Strickler holds a 50-pound turkey presented to the president on Nov. 23, 1994. (Photo: Wilfredo Lee/AP) Clinton with a 35-pound turkey, wearing a White House visitor's pass, which was presented to him on Nov. 27, 1996. (Photo: Doug Mills/AP) Clinton, holding his nephew Tyler, 6, pardons a turkey on Nov. 22, 2000. (Photo: Kenneth Lambert/AP) President George W. Bush pardoning a turkey on Nov. 19, 2001. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters) President George W. Bush pardoning a turkey on Nov. 17, 2004. (Photo: Ron Edmonds/AP) President George W. Bush in the Rose Garden of the White House on Nov. 22, 2006. (Photo: Chuck Kennedy/MCT via Getty Images) President Barack Obama, with daughters Malia, far right, and Sasha, pardons a turkey on Nov. 25, 2009. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP) Obama, with Sasha and Malia, pardons a turkey on Nov. 23, 2011. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP) Obama, with Sasha and Malia, pardoning a turkey on Nov. 21, 2012. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP) Obama, with his daughters, at the turkey pardoning ceremony on Nov. 26, 2014. (Photo: Larry Downing/Reuters) Obama pardoning a turkey on Nov. 25, 2015. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP) Obama after pardoning a turkey, as the president’s nephews Aaron Robinson and Austin Robinson watch, Nov. 23, 2016. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP) President Donald Trump at the turkey pardoning ceremony, as son Barron Trump and first lady Melania Trump look on, Nov. 21, 2017. (Photo: Jim Bourg/Reuters) U.S. President Donald Trump gives a presidential 'pardon' to the National Thanksgiving Turkey Butter during the traditional event with first lady Melania Trump (R) in the Rose Garden of the White House Nov. 26, 2019 in Washington. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) First lady Melania Trump (R) looks on as US President Donald Trump gives the National Thanksgiving Turkey "Corn" a presidential pardon during the traditional event in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, on November 24, 2020. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images) President Joe Biden pardons the turkey 'Peanut Butter' during the White House Thanksgiving turkey pardon in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC on November 19, 2021. (Olivier Doulliery/AFP via Getty Images)