A prime example of the modern conventional way of raising turkey enjoyed by American families, this turkey is destined as a gift for the President of the United States from the National Turkey Federation (NTF). As the time-honored symbol of thanks that opens the holiday season, the presentation of the National Thanksgiving Turkey is traced through nearly seven decades and a dozen Presidents. Presentation of the National Thanksgiving Turkey by NTF began with President Harry Truman, and has continued through each presidential administration with a turkey raised at the direction of that year’s NTF chairman.
The National Thanksgiving Turkey is raised to become accustomed to visitors and the sounds and lights experienced at the White House presentation. The farmer will also work with the best candidates based on appearance and temperment to be lifted and stand calmly on the linen-covered table when presented to the President. As The Wall Street Journal witnessed, it all takes practice.
Ready to meet the President
Throughout the years, the National Thanksgiving Turkey has come from the West Coast, the Midwest, and the Southern Atlantic states - the location is determined by that year's National Turkey Federation Chairman. The only time a domesticated turkey does fly, is when the trip from the farm to the Nation's Capital is too far to drive.
Center of Attention
The day before the White House presentation, the National Turkey Federation has held a photo opportunity in the chandelier-adorned hotel ballroom where the chairman presents the two turkeys to the invited Washington and international reporters. The chairman and turkey farmer also conduct one-on-one interviews during the photo opportunity.
As the schedule allows, pre-arranged in-suite interviews may be granted one at a time with selected reporters from major news outlets with the NTF chairman and farmer in the turkey’s hotel room.
In 2015, United Airlines flew the National Thanksgiving Turkey, its alternate as well as two other turkeys from the presidential flock to Washington, DC. Dulles International Airport and Reagan National Airport greeted the turkeys with celebration of Turkey in the Terminal.
On the same afternoon as the White House presentation, the other turkeys from the presidential flock traveled by Amtrak to New York City to appear at the New York Stock Exchange and CNBC Business News Network'sClosing Bell
Recent custom continues to observe a “pardoning” of the National Thanksgiving Turkey and alternate. Both are transported to a university into the care of poultry science veterinarians. The National Turkey Federation is partnering with the Virginia Tech Poultry Science program to be the home of the 2018 turkeys.
The turkeys’ presence further promotes the connections of animal agriculture and the historic observance by the President of the United States noting the traditions of Thanksgiving, the opening of the holiday season and the role of agriculture among the nation’s many blessings.
Additionally, this partnership publicly elevates Virginia Tech’s poultry science, animal science, and veterinarian programs. The National Thanksgiving Turkey and alternate serve to showcase the modern poultry industry and assist in recruiting new leaders to choose a career path in the raising of turkeys.
The White House announces the name of the National Thanksgiving Turkey and its alternate, chosen from suggestions by the public. In recent years, a White House social media campaign has engaged the public to vote on which turkey should be the alternate and which should be presented as the National Thanksgiving Turkey. The final choice is made known by the president during the ceremony.
The custom of "pardoning" the National Thanksgiving Turkey began in 1989 with President George H.W. Bush. It was the 200th anniversary of President George Washington's Proclamation of a Day of Thanksgiving. School children were in attendance and the turkey was quite active.
“Our special guest seems . . . understandably nervous,” President Bush said, “but let me assure you, and this fine tom turkey that he will not end up on anyone’s dinner table, not this guy. He’s granted a Presidential pardon as of right now.”
Behind the Scenes
The week of Thanksgiving, the National Thanksgiving Turkey and alternate arrive in Washington, DC and stay in a hotel suite chosen for its close proximity to the White House.
In the days prior to the presentation, the White House digital team arranges with NTF for access to the suite for video and still photography of both turkeys. The digital team creates social media and website postings for the official White House platforms, introducing the names of the two turkeys, and inviting the public to vote on social media through Wednesday morning for one of the turkeys to be designated as the National Thanksgiving Turkey.
National Thanksgiving Turkey and alternate entertain reporters in their hotel suite.
The White House
Presentation of the National Thanksgiving Turkey by the National Turkey Federation began with President Harry Truman, and has continued through each presidential administration with a turkey raised at the direction of that year’s NTF chairman.
Each year, NTF looks forward to the invitation from the White House to present the National Thanksgiving Turkey to the president of the United States. Carrying forward that history, this year’s turkey comes to the White House in the arms of National Turkey Federation Chairman Jeff Sveen. Jeff is the first person to represent South Dakota at the event as NTF Chairman. He has the honor of presenting this symbol of Thanksgiving and reminder of the blessings of the nation’s bountiful harvest. Recent custom has the president “pardoning” the turkey he receives.
2013 National Thanksgiving Turkey "Popcorn" has the North Portico to himself in the minutes before the President of the United States steps to the podium.
The White House North Portico facing Pennsylvania Avenue shelters the event for the President and guests, but the large covered porch with its supporting columns isn't quite deep enough to protect the network and newspaper camera crews from the November sleet and snow. The North Portico is one of three areas where the event can be staged, based on that day's weather.
Just inside the North Portico is the Entrance Hall, prepared as a warm alternative location to snowfall and freezing temperatures outside on this cold November day in 2014.
Rose Garden Ceremony
Located on the southwest side of the White House, near the Oval Office, the Rose Garden has room to accomodate more guests when weather permits a mild November day, as happened in 2015.
For in Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America. Eagles have been found in all Countries, but the Turkey was peculiar to ours, the first of the Species seen in Europe being brought to France by the Jesuits from Canada, and serv’d up at the Wedding Table of Charles the ninth. - Benjamin Franklin letter to his daughter Sarah Bache, Jan 26, 1784 from the FranklinPapers.org
The turkey is native to America, descended from the turkeys gathered as part of the feast at the First Thanksgiving, as described by Plymouth Plantation.
Turkey feathers have been used in the traditional regalia of many tribes, particularly the feathered cloaks of eastern Woodland Indians like the Wampanoag (of Plymouth and the First Thanksgiving) and the feather headdresses of southern tribes like the Tuscarora and Catawba. The Turkey Dance is one of the most important social dances of the Caddo tribe, associated with songs about war honors and tribal pride. Some other eastern tribes, such as the Lenape, Shawnee, and Seminoles, have turkey dances as well. (from Native Languages of the Americas)
With President Reagan
President Ronald Reagan's first political campaign literally took off in 1966 with the help of turkeys, as a turkey farmer flew California gubernatorial candidate Reagan to campaign stops on The Turkey Bird. (White House Photo: Ronald Reagan Library)
NEWS NOTE: White House dog releases Thanksgiving turkeys
The Coolidge family dog creates a big problem as Thanksgiving approaches. The dog lets the Thanksgiving turkeys free, resulting in a wild chase by White House guards to recapture the tricky birds as Coolidge watches from the porch. Coolidge's comment "As hard to land as farm relief" refers to a major political issue regarding financial relief for farmers. - Artist Clifford K. Berryman November 18, 1926.