Americans Eat 1.4 Billion Pounds of Turkey Every Thanksgiving, and Other Fun Facts About the Beloved Holiday

Some facts and figures about how Americans and the White House embrace Thanksgiving traditions.
Americans Eat 1.4 Billion Pounds of Turkey Every Thanksgiving, and Other Fun Facts About the Beloved Holiday
Ronald Reagan and the exonerated turkey. (The White House Historical Association)
11/23/2023
Updated:
11/23/2023
0:00

Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national tradition in 1863—and also pardoned “Jack the turkey” when his son, Tad, begged that his pet bird not become a Christmas meal.

Americans eat 46 million turkeys each Thanksgiving. With an average weight of 30 pounds, that’s almost 1.4 billion pounds of turkey!

54 million people traveled 50 miles or more to be with friends and family last Thanksgiving. While Thanksgiving itself is the least crowded travel day, the two days before it and the Sunday after are among busiest days of the year to be on the road.

(Public Domain)
(Public Domain)

In 2022, the average price of a homemade Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people was $64. Last year, 64 percent of Americans also reported that the personal meaning of Thanksgiving was spending time with family.

In George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789, he asked that Americans give their “sincere and humble thanks” to “that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.”

Does this look like the White House to you? Reporters in 1920 said it did when the Chamber of Commerce of Cuero, Texas, delivered this turkey crate to President Woodrow Wilson. The turkey pictured here tussled with another one on the lawn, and lost, before heading to the dinner table.

Thanksgiving during President George H.W. Bush's administration. (Public Domain)
Thanksgiving during President George H.W. Bush's administration. (Public Domain)

What happens to poultry after they’re pardoned? During President Ronald Reagan’s administration, he held a ceremony for his exonerated bird, then sent it to a farm to live out its days in peace and tranquility. Since then, this practice has become standard—although turkeys are also sometimes sent to Disneyland.

President George H.W. Bush formalized the tradition of saving a turkey with its now-familiar term when he said, “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 now.”

This article was originally published in American Essence magazine.
Andrew Benson Brown is a Missouri-based poet, journalist, and writing coach. He is an editor at Bard Owl Publishing and Communications and the author of “Legends of Liberty,” an epic poem about the American Revolution. For more information, visit Apollogist.wordpress.com.