Turkeys are a holiday tradition at the White House, and this year is no exception with the pardoning of two male turkeys: Liberty and Bell.
Horace Vose was known as the man who supplied the White House with holiday turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas for over four decades.
From 1873 until Vose died in 1913, the “Poultry King” hand-selected the turkey for the first families from the finest flocks in Rhode Island and Connecticut. The White House turkeys ranged in weight from 30–50 pounds, according to the White House Historical Association, and would be slaughtered and dressed before being express shipped to the White House addressed to the president.
The pardoning of a turkey at the White House is thought to have begun in 1947 under President Harry S. Truman, marking the year that the tradition of the White House receiving a turkey from the poultry industry became official. However, the Truman Library & Museum questions whether President Truman was the first president to actually pardon a turkey.
The tradition of pardoning a presidential turkey at the White House occurred sporadically until 1981, when it became the norm.
One such pardon before 1981 was issued by former First Lady Rosalynn Carter in 1978 when the turkey sent from the poultry industry to the White House was left to enjoy the remainder of its life at a mini zoo at Evans Farm Inn.
Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter recently died on November 19 at the age of 96. Mrs. Carter was married to the 30th president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, for 77 years. President Carter, 99, said in a press release of his wife, “She gave me wise guidance and encouragement when I needed it. As long as Rosalynn was in the world, I always knew somebody loved and supported me.”
Pardoning a turkey to a farm became a real presidential tradition under former President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
President Joe Biden will keep the tradition going with the pardoning of two turkeys at the White House on Monday. The president will also be celebrating his 81st birthday the same day, spending part of his day with the two turkeys affectionately named Liberty and Bell.
The male turkeys weigh around 42 pounds each, are from Minnesota, where Jennie-O is headquartered, and are part of the company’s “presidential flock.”
“We think that’s a great way to kick off the holiday season and really, really a fun honor,” Steve Lykken, chairman of the National Turkey Federation and president of the Jennie-O Turkey Store, said to the Associated Press.
The pardoning of the turkeys on the south lawn of the White House marks the unofficial start to the holiday season in Washington, D.C.