This is one of the strangest Thanksgiving customs that we have. Just advertising for the turkey growers. In 1947, National Turkey Foundation & the Poultry & Egg National Board first presented Thanksgiving turkeys to President Harry S. Truman. According to turkey foundation, Truman was given 1 live turkey & 2 dressed turkeys the week before Thanksgiving in 1947. Tradition says that Truman donated the live bird to a local farm, where the turkey was guaranteed a long life unmolested by stuffing or gravy. But, truth be told, he probably ate it.
However, there is some controversy about this tale of the 1947 turkey. The Truman Presidential Library says that no documents, speeches, newspaper clippings, photographs or other contemporary records are known to exist that specify that he ever "pardoned" a turkey.
The Eisenhower Presidential Library says documents in their collection reveal that President Dwight Eisenhower ate the birds presented to him during his 2 terms.
President John F. Kennedy spontaneously spared a turkey on Nov. 19, 1963, just days before his assassination, but did not grant a "pardon." The bird was wearing a sign reading, "Good Eatin' Mr. President." "Let's just keep him." Kennedy just sent him back to the farm.
Apparently President Lyndon B. Johnson ate his turkey. "I hadn't been quite sure what I was going to eat Thanksgiving," said President Johnson before Thanksgiving in 1964, "but I am glad I can eat turkey instead of crow."
Richard Nixon sent at least one of his turkeys to a petting zoo.
The fate of Gerald Ford's turkey remains unknown.
President Ronald Reagan deflected questions in 1987 about pardoning Oliver North in the Iran-Contra affair by joking about pardoning a turkey named Charlie, who was already heading to a petting zoo. In 1981, on receiving a Tom Turkey from the National Turkey Federation, President Reagan was asked what he's going to do with Tom. "Eat him," said Mr. Reagan straightforwardly.
President George H.W. Bush said in 1989, "This fine tom turkey has been granted a presidential pardon as of right now.” Since then, the pardoned turkey has been taken to a farm to live out the rest of its natural life. For many years the turkeys were sent to Frying Pan Park in Fairfax County, Virginia.
President Bill Clinton saw humor in the tradition, "I think it's kind of funny, and it's an annual ritual," said President Clinton at his first turkey pardon ceremony in 1993. Clinton said at one pardoning, “We can all be grateful, therefore, that there will be one less turkey in Washington, D.C.”
George Bush's son, President George W. Bush at the turkey pardon in 2001, observed that "our guest of honor looks a little nervous. Nobody's told him yet that I'm going to give him a pardon." In 2005, Bush accepted the foundation's gift of 2 live birds, named "Marshmallow" & "Yam," in a White House ceremony. Calling the birds "the people's turkeys," Bush explained that they had earned their names through a democratic process—the public was allowed to vote on names for the birds through the White House website. He quipped that the vote had been so close, "you might say it was neck and neck." Previous votes resulted in names like "Pumpkin & Pecan," "May & Flower," "Marshmallow & Yamy," & "Biscuit" & "Gravy." Bush's 2003 turkeys were patriotically dubbed "Stars" & "Stripes."
From 2005 to 2009, the pardoned turkeys were sent to either the Disneyland Resort in California or the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, to serve as honorary grand marshals of Disney's Thanksgiving Day Parade. But according to a Disneyland spokesman, after 5 years of taking in the turkeys, the corporation decided it would no longer be accepting the feathered presidential pardons. “There are certain days that remind me of why I ran for this office,” President Obama said at his first turkey pardon in 2009. “And then there are moments like this...” In 2010 & 2011, President Barack Obama sent the pardoned turkeys to live at nearby Mount Vernon, the home of the nation's 1st President George Washington.
President Obama's pardoned turkeys will be sent to "Turkey Hill," a historic farm located at the home of former Virginia Governor Westmoreland Davis in Leesburg, Virginia. President Obama used the pardoning ceremonies to poke fun at his critics over his executive actions giving a new legal status to as many as five million undocumented immigrants, saying his Thanksgiving pardon of a turkey would doubtlessly be criticized as “amnesty.” Obama joked that the turkey pardons would be the “most talked about executive action this month” & one that’s “fully within my legal authority, the same kind of action taken by Democrats & Republican presidents before...I know some will call this amnesty, but don’t worry, there is plenty of turkey to go around,”