Everything You Need to Know About the Presidential Turkey Pardon


Two very lucky turkeys get to avoid the dinner table for a podium at the White House today, thanks to the annual presidential turkey pardon.

Today is President Obama’s last turkey pardon. Here’s everything you need to know about this national Thanksgiving tradition.

The History

The White House Historical Association notes that President Abraham Lincoln may have provided the inspiration for the pardon after he reportedly spared his son’s turkey from becoming Christmas dinner in 1863.

President Harry Truman was believed for many years to be the first president to have pardoned a Thanksgiving turkey. Truman was indeed the first to be presented with a bird from the National Turkey Federation (NTF) in 1947. However, he may not have pardoned the birds at all. According to his presidential library, Truman “sometimes indicated to reporters that the turkeys he received were destined for the family dinner table.”

President Kennedy is now thought to be the first to actually spare a turkey. He sent the 1963 bird back to the farm, according to the White House.

President George H.W. Bush became the first to formally issue a reprieve to the turkey, according to the White House, announcing that the bird has “been granted a presidential pardon as of right now.”

In 2009, President Obama set a new precedent for pardoning not one, but two turkeys. At the request of his daughters Sasha and Malia, Obama pardoned both “Courage” and “Carolina” that year. However, to this day, only one bird can be the “official” presidential turkey. Recent title-holding turkeys have been decided by popular vote on social media.

The Turkeys

Each year, the NTF designates a state farm to raise a flock of presidential pardon contenders. According to the NTF’s Presidential Turkey website, the winning birds are “chosen for physical appearance and temperament.” They are also trained to “become accustomed to being lifted onto a table-height platform draped with a linen cloth.”

Before heading to the nation’s capital, the turkeys are often brought to local schools, where children suggest names for them. The names are announced by the White House in the days before the pardon.

The 2016 Birds

This year’s turkeys are named “Tater” and “Tot.” Both are 18 months old, stand at a little over 2 feet tall, and weigh roughly 40 pounds. They were raised on a family farm in Iowa and began their trek to Washington on Sunday.

Tater and Tot are being housed at the Willard Hotel until their ceremony in the Rose Garden. After they are officially pardoned, they will travel to “Gobblers Rest” at Virginia Tech University to live out the rest of their days, according to a statement.

According to the turkeys’ White House “biographies,” Tater enjoys Meghan Trainor and “walks with a swagger,” while Tot prefers Justin Timberlake and “walks with a relaxed saunter.” The public can vote for which turkey should receive the official “presidential turkey designation” until this afternoon.



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