A Brief History of the Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon


Think the Annual Turkey Pardon is a longstanding practice? Think again! While the tradition dates back to the 1940s, it wasn't practiced with regularity until George H. W. Bush's presidency. In 1989 Bush, responding to animal rights activists picketing outside the White House, officially instituted the turkey pardon as part of a president's duties.

There are conflicting historical accounts about the origin of the pardon before Bush, with some scholars pointing to Harry Truman as the true originator of the practice (though the Truman Library claims no documents exist to substantiate this). Truman did pardon several turkeys during his presidency, though he may have eaten some of the turkeys he pardoned!

Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy also pardoned turkeys during their terms, with Kennedy spontaneously pardoning a bird four days before his assassination. The first president on record for issuing a pardon is Ronald Reagan, who pardoned Charlie the turkey and had him sent to a petting farm. This pardoning was used as a joke to deflect questions about whether or not President Reagan would pardon Oliver North for his part in the Iran-Contra Affair.

Whatever the origin of the tradition or your personal political views, you have to admit the Annual Turkey Pardon results in some fantastic photos!