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Thanksgiving Turkey Traditions at the White House

by Mark Hughes

Since 1947, The National Turkey Federation (NTF) and The Poultry and Egg National Board (PENB) have donated a turkey to the White House each Thanksgiving—a tradition that is often confused with the Thanksgiving presidential turkey pardon. Officially, the presidential turkey pardon began during George H.W. Bush's first Thanksgiving in the White House in 1989. Prior to that event, presidents were more likely to eat the donated birds rather than spare them. Follow this slideshow for pictures and information about the presidents and the fate of their Thanksgiving turkeys.

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Harry Truman


President Harry Truman was in office when the NTF and PENB began donating turkeys to the White House in 1947. Recent presidents have said that the tradition of pardoning a turkey began with Truman, but archivists of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum have "found no documents, speeches, newspaper clippings, photographs, or other contemporary records in our holdings which refer to Truman pardoning a turkey." This photograph shows a turkey given to Truman by the NTF before it ended up on the dinner table.

Turkey fact: The average lifespan of domesticated turkeys is 18-24 months. Wild turkeys typically live 3 to 4 years.

Photo: whitehouse.gov

Next: Dwight D. Eisenhower

More on: Thanksgiving

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