The Truman Library has received many requests over the years for information confirming the story that President Truman "pardoned" a Thanksgiving turkey in 1947, thus initiating a Presidential tradition that continues to this day.
The Library's staff has found no documents, speeches, newspaper clippings, photographs, or other contemporary records in our holdings which refer to Truman pardoning a turkey that he received as a gift in 1947, or at any other time during his Presidency. Truman sometimes indicated to reporters that the turkeys he received were destined for the family dinner table. In any event, the Library has been unable to determine when the tradition of pardoning the turkey actually began.
Various groups presented turkeys to President Truman, often during the Christmas season instead of at Thanksgiving. There seems to have been only one presentation a year, with the National Turkey Federation and the Poultry and Egg National Board as the organizations most frequently involved. For example, these two groups presented the President with a turkey during a ceremony at the White House on December 15, 1947.
In his remarks at a similar ceremony on November 19, 2001, President George W. Bush referred to another story, which holds that President Lincoln started the tradition by pardoning his son Tad's pet turkey.
This portion of the website was researched and written by Cynthia Edwards and designed by Lori Schwartz, as part of the Internship Program at the Truman Library. Last updated December 5, 2003.