Turkeys Raised On California Farm

Justin Sullivan / Staff/Getty Images

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will pardon the National Thanksgiving Turkey in the White House Rose Garden Tuesday afternoon. The pardoning is set to take place at 1:00 p.m. ET.

Many American's have come to anticipate this long-held, yearly event. In recent years it has provided the president with a moment of levity — he cracks a few turkey jokes, pokes fun at the media, and sometimes there are unexpected turkey hijinks.

But there's something about this tradition that may surprise many Americans: It's a relatively young tradition, at least where the officiality of the pardon is concerned.

The tradition of pardoning a turkey has somewhat auspicious beginnings. Originally, the birds were presented to the sitting president as a gift by local farmers, with this tradition dating back to the time of Lincoln. More often than not, the birds would become dinner for the president and his family at some point, if not exactly for the Thanksgiving feast.

Where the modern incarnation of this tradition is concerned, the first presentation of a turkey by those in the poultry industry began in 1947. The first president to go on record as pardoning one of the turkeys presented to him — though certainly not the first to do so — was Ronald Reagan.

In the midst of the Iran-Contra Affair, Reagan came under a great deal of questioning as to whether he would pardon Oliver North for his involvement (he would later be convicted, then have those convictions vacated and reversed). To deflect the questioning — and seemingly poke fun at the subject — Reagan decided to pardon the turkey that was presented to him that year.

Since Reagan's inaugural pardoning, sitting president's have pardoned 19 turkeys. Tuesday's pardoning marks the 20th turkey to be officially pardoned.

Many, also, aren't aware that there are actually two turkey's presented to the first family each year. There is a backup turkey presented — the “wingman” — in addition to the star bird most will see on the day of the pardoning. This part of the tradition seems to have begun with President Bill Clinton in 2000.

Each year's turkeys are usually selected from the farm of the National Turkey Federation chairperson. To start, about 80 birds are chosen to be acclimated to loud noises, flash photography, large crowds, and the pressures of fame. From the 80, eventually two are chosen and the names of the winners are picked by White House staffers from names given by students from the state where the birds were raised.

Prior to their big day, the turkeys spend the night at the Willard InterContinental, a historic (and often pricey) hotel just two blocks away from the White House.

President Donald Trump's first turkeys to pardon come via Carl Wittenburg's farm in Alexandria, Minnesota. Wishbone and Drunkstick are this year's special birds weighing 47 and 36 pounds, respectively.

Seeing how the turkeys are pardoned, what exactly becomes of them after their big day on the national plate stage? Sadly, the natural lifespan of a turkey isn't very long — maybe 10 years at most. And the particular breed of turkey selected for pardoning, Broad Breasted White turkeys, are often prone to health problems cutting their lifespan short.

Some of the pardoned turkeys make their ways to various zoos or petting zoos, having become avian celebrities of sorts. Unfortunately, living day-to-day as a tourist attraction doesn't lend itself to a long lifespan. In the past, some of the pardoned turkeys didn't live long after their reprieve. In recent years, however, the pardoned turkeys have been sent to various farms where their well-being and livelihood is looked after.

Last year's birds — Tater and Tot — are reportedly still alive. As are 2015's birds, Honest and Abe.

Watch President Trump pardon Wishbone and Drumstick below, via YouTube.

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