Winner, winner, (not) turkey dinner

History of presidential turkey pardoning


White House Historical Association

Tot, the 2016 National Thanksgiving Turkey, waits to receive his pardon from President Barack Obama on November 23, 2016 in the Rose Garden. The ceremony in 2016 marked President Obama’s final turkey pardoning after two terms in office.

The time has come.

The president pardoned a special subject.

Of feathers and gobbles, Corn is the lucky turkey to be pardoned at the annual Thanksgiving Turkey “pardoning” Tuesday, Nov. 24 in the White House Rose Garden.

After the ceremony, Corn will gobble up the spotlight along with the alternate turkey Cob.

The White House

According to The White House Historical Association, the tradition began in 1863 with President Abraham Lincoln. The first pardoned turkey was actually a Christmas dinner turkey of which Lincoln’s son had an affinity. However, a turkey was never officially pardoned until 1989.

The organization also states reports of gifted turkeys to presidents go all the way back to the 1870s, with the practice being normalized by 1914. Back then, the turkeys were merely gifts to the first families, but various people sent the presidents’ a turkey: a poultry dealer, a girl from Vermont, an American Legion post. The gifts were now a national symbol for cheer.

Although many believe President Harry S. Truman began the tradition, Truman clarified to the press the turkeys he received were often destined for the dinner table. The first president to pardon a turkey for Thanksgiving was President John F. Kennedy, and the turkey he pardoned wore a sign reading, “Good eating, Mr. President!” In 1987, President Ronald Reagan was the first president to use the word “pardon” in regard to the turkeys, and the national turkey pardoning was formalized by President George H.W. Bush in 1989. Since then, it has become customary for the commander-in-chief to pardon a turkey, along with a runner-up.

The turkeys themselves have been chosen in different ways. Once being simple gifts to the president from people and organizations across the nation, turkeys are now bred and raised specifically to be pardoned. In fact, two turkeys are sent as contestants to the White House, with the public allowed to vote for either turkey to become the following day’s National Thanksgiving Turkey through the White House website.

This year, Corn and Cob were the turkeys who campaigned against each other, with Corn ultimately winning (in a fair election). According to the White House, Ron Kardel, the National Turkey Federation Charmain, raised Corn and Cob in Walcott, Iowa on a soybean farm.

Corn hatched July 2, 2020 and has a wingspan of 35 inches, weighing 42 pounds and reaching 32 inches. With a chatty personality, his favorite snack is sweet corn, his favorite sport is college football and his favorite pastime is storm chasing. He has a travel goal of visiting the Iowa State Fair and a fitness goal of perfecting the high jump. Cob also hatched July 2 and has a wingspan of 34 inches, with a weight of 41 pounds and reaching 31 inches. His favorite snack is soybeans, his favorite sport is pickleball and his favorite pastime is solving puzzles. He has a travel goal of visiting the D.C. monuments and a fitness goal of biking across Iowa.

And although Corn won the title National Thanksgiving Turkey, both Corn and Cob will retire at Gobbler’s Rest, a Virginia Tech enclosure, in Blacksburg, where they will be greeted with local media attention and high-end living, set to live out their days safe from the dinner table.