Since 1947, the National Turkey Federation has presented the President of the United States with one live turkey and two dressed turkeys, in a ceremony known as the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation. John F. Kennedy was the first president reported to spare the turkey given to him (he announced he didn’t plan to eat the bird), and Ronald Reagan was the first to grant the turkey a presidential pardon, which he jokingly presented to his 1987 turkey (a turkey that would indeed be spared and sent to a petting zoo).
There are legends that state that the “pardoning” tradition dates to the Harry Truman administration or even to an anecdote of Abraham Lincoln pardoning his son’s pet turkey (a Christmas turkey); both stories have been quoted in more recent presidential speeches, but neither has any evidence in the Presidential record. In more recent years, two turkeys have been pardoned, in case the original turkey becomes unavailable for presidential pardoning.
George H. W. Bush, who served as vice president under Reagan, made the turkey pardon a permanent annual tradition upon assuming the presidency in 1989, a tradition that has been carried on by every president each year since. The pardoned turkeys have typically ended up in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. From 1989 to 2004 they were sent to a children’s farm called “Frying Pan Farm Park” in Herndon, Virginia. From 2009 to 2013 they were sent to George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate near Alexandria, Virginia, and in 2014 they were sent to an estate in Leesburg, Virginia once owned by former state governor and turkey farmer Westmoreland Davis. However, from 2005 to 2009 they were sent to either Walt Disney World or Disneyland. The turkeys rarely live to see the next Thanksgiving due to being bred for large size.