DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, 1960
According to the White House, the tradition of granting clemency to a turkey dates back to 1863, when Abraham Lincoln apparently pardoned one. Poultry dealers had been sending birds to the White House for years before that, however, no one had ever formerly excused one from their Thanksgiving table. Fast-forward several decades, when people claimed Harry S. Truman officially began the tradition — a fact his library and museum staff disputes.
Though he was pictured with one at his time — and mentioned it’d come in handy at Christmas time — it was Eisenhower who posed for this photo op of himself feeding a turkey a cranberry during his term.
JOHN F. KENNEDY, 1963
The Washington Post first used both “pardon” and “reprieve” in a 1963 article in which President Kennedy said of his turkey, “Let’s keep him going,” the White House shared.
LYNDON B. JOHNSON, 1967
After Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson took over the tradition. Here, Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois and representatives of the poultry industry and farm organizations presented the president with the year’s turkey.
RICHARD NIXON, 1970
A possibly apocryphal tale about Nixon’s photo op with his turkey claims the bird was so rattled, its feet had to be nailed to the table. (Apparently turkeys don’t have nerve endings in their feet.)
GERALD FORD, 1975
Unclear if the bird directly in front of the president was for eating or decoration. The live one traveled to D.C. with the National Turkey Federation.
JIMMY CARTER, 1978
The president’s wife, Rosalynn, and daughter, Amy, took over the honors in this year, meeting with “Purdue Pete” on the North Portico of the White House.
RONALD REAGAN, 1985
Reagan’s expression of glee was no doubt due to the fact that this encounter went markedly better than his first with a turkey, when the bird went wild on him, fluttering around madly until handlers could placate it. Reagan is credited with making the turkey pardoning an official act, formalizing the annual process.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, 1989
Bush I reportedly quipped “reprieve,” within earshot of animal rights activists picketing the ceremony.
BILL CLINTON, 2000
Clinton’s turkey’s name was “Jerry,” which we have to assume was a Seinfeld reference, given the show’s dominance throughout the ’90s.
GEORGE W. BUSH, 2006
Bush II’s bird’s name was “Flyer,” though he looks like more of a “Grumpy,” right?
BARACK OBAMA, 2012
For his official duties in 2012, Obama brought along daughters Sasha and Malia, a job they helped with pretty much every year their dad was in office.
BARACK OBAMA, 2015
President Obama is seen here with Abe, the 42-lb. turkey he pardoned on Nov. 25, 2015. Careful readers will note that some believe the practice of pardoning a turkey started with Abraham Lincoln, which brings this whole event full circle.