18 Vintage Photos From Thanksgivings Past

Library of Congress
Library of Congress / Library of Congress

The way we get our turkeys and how we prepare them has changed quite a bit. It wasn’t long ago that when you got your bird, you got the whole darn thing—usually with the feathers, beak, feet and all, just like this gentleman photographed back in 1910.

Of course, that incredible level of freshness also meant there was less risk of salmonella poisoning from just handling the bird. After all, how many of you would ever let your youngster carry around your Thanksgiving turkey like this little one did in 1919?

On the downside, that also meant you had to spend even more time prepping your meal. Plucking the bird was the first step, and it was time consuming, as you can see from this image taken sometime around 1900.

These days, we’re used to eating broad-breasted whites, which are much less gamey and have a lot more white meat than other breeds of turkeys. As you can tell by the look of this finished roast from 1940, our modern birds also are a lot more stout and plump than the varieties eaten in the past.

While the big White House Thanksgiving tradition these days is the turkey pardon, that only started in 1989. Before that, the biggest presidential tradition involved with the holiday was the same one we all enjoy: a Thanksgiving feast. And from the looks of this 1921 photograph showing two men toting in one of many turkeys for President Harding, the White House must have hosted one heck of a feast.

Turkey may be the main course from the holiday, but the focus of Thanksgiving has always been spending time with your loved ones. Even in 1942, when many workers did their jobs on the holiday in order to help out the boys on the front lines, families like the Blackwelders still took time out from their busy day at the factory to enjoy a meal together.

Of course, the war didn’t stop all the traditional Thanksgiving get-togethers. The Finchams must have been all too thankful when they were able to enjoy their holiday meal with their two Coast Guard sons and two of their friends from the military.

Whatever the year, Thanksgiving has always been an opportunity to spend time with your family, whether that means hunting together like the two Crouch boys here…

Or just catching up on the news together like these two Crouches did in 1940.

Sometimes preparing a particular part of the meal takes more than one family member. Earle Landis needed his youngest son to help by sitting on the lid of the ice cream maker to keep it closed as the ice cream started to harden.

Of course, most of the meal preparation was left to the men’s wives and daughters, and while Mr. Landis and his son made some ice cream, Mrs. Landis prepared the turkey, the sides and all the pies in the oven.

In the end, the hard work and preparation certainly pay off when everyone sits down and enjoys a delicious meal together. That holds true today just as it did in the home of Earle Landis back in 1942.

And if you’ve wondered how long the concept of a “kids' table” has been around, well, this picture of the Crouch family Thanksgiving confirms that it’s been common since at least 1940.

Not everyone has a home cooked meal on Thanksgiving though, and restaurants have always managed to do pretty well on the holiday thanks to those who just don’t feel like slaving over a hot stove all day. I don’t quite know what to tell you about this sign though—whether it’s talking about giving your wife the turkey as a pet, or saying that your wife is a pet. What do you guys think?

Here’s one Thanksgiving tradition that you probably aren’t familiar with. It’s called “masking” and it involves children dressing up in costume and going from door to door in hopes of getting candy—essentially, trick or treating on Thanksgiving rather than Halloween.

Aside from going door to door for treats, maskers also participated in a “scramble for pennies,” when an adult would throw a handful of coins to the youngsters and watch them rabidly reach and grab for the change.

While records indicate the activity started back in 1780, it seems to have really caught on with the kiddies around 1900. Unfortunately, newspaper editors and parents found it to be incredibly offensive for children to go around begging in the streets, particularly on a day they considered to be so somber, and they banded together to stop the activity, successfully eradicating it by 1940. As a huge fan of Halloween, I think we should bring this tradition back!

Masking wasn’t the only tradition children participated in though. Just as today, many of them participated in pageants reenacting the first Thanksgiving. Here is one such event that took place in 1911.

Now that you know how people have celebrated Thanksgiving for the last 100 or so years, hopefully you can feel a little more thankful enjoying your family’s traditional get-together. But if you do get bored, you can always try to inject some life into your celebration by bringing back the forgotten tradition of masking—it’s a surefire way to bring some fun into your family occasion.

All images courtesy of the Library of Congress.