A photographic history of the presidency’s silliest tradition.
The President of the United States has always been a busy job, with exception to the Coolidge era. Not only does the poor guy (at least until 2016) have to deal with matters of life and death all day, but the Prez has loads of ceremonial duties to attend to, also. Of the latter, none is sillier than pardoning a turkey.
We think of the annual turkey pardon as a longstanding tradition, but it isn’t. One version of the history dates to Abe Lincoln, whose son allegedly begged him to spare the holiday entree. Others cite Harry Truman as the tradition’s founder, but in reality the first official pardon was granted by George H.W. Bush in 1989.
So what are all of those pre-Bush presidents doing with turkeys? Well, a previous tradition of shipping a turkey to the White House began in 1873 when a man named Horace Voce sent U.S. Grant a bird and continued doing so for the next 25 years. With few exceptions (Kennedy in 1963) the birds were dinner prior to 1989.
All images public domain.