Later today, as many presidents before him have done, President Obama will pardon a couple of turkeys. “The office of the presidency—the most powerful position in the world—brings with it many awesome and solemn responsibilities," Obama said in 2013. "This is not one of them."
Gifting a turkey to the president is certainly nothing new. The tradition dates back at least to 1873, when Ulysses S. Grant benefited from the poultry present. But until the past couple of decades, the presentation of a bird was more or less a private photo op for representatives of the Poultry and Egg Board or the National Turkey Federation. And—surprise, surprise—the presidents typically ate the birds, with the exception of Kennedy.
The whole pardoning event is fairly new, though, and giving the fortunate turkeys monikers is even newer. Here’s what we know about the names of those lucky suckers:
1863: Jack, allegedly. As one story goes, Abraham Lincoln’s son, Tad, became a little too attached to the gift that was destined to end up on the dinner table, naming him Jack. His father agreed to let the turkey live, and Jack ended up as part of the menagerie the Lincoln boys had at the White House.
1873: The Vose Turkey. Turkey farmer Horace Vose formally started the tradition of presenting the president with the main entree for his meal. We’re sure Grant was grateful.
1994: Tom (how original)
2000: Jerry. You can see Bill Clinton dutifully performing the pardon here:
Beginning in 2001, two turkeys were always on tap—the one that would look best on camera, and a backup in case the first choice got skittish in front of the crowd. Traditionally, both the main turkey and the understudy have been pardoned.
2001: Liberty and Freedom, in the wake of 9/11.
2002: Katie and Zack, named after the children of the chairman of the National Turkey Federation.
2003: Stars and Stripes, which narrowly won over Pumpkin and Cranberry in an online poll.
2004: Biscuits and Gravy
2005: Marshmallow and Yam
2006: Flyer and Fryer
2007: May and Flower
2008: Pumpkin and Pecan
2009: Courage and Carolina
2010: Apple and Cider
2011: Liberty and Peace
2012: Cobbler and Gobbler
2013: Caramel and Popcorn
2014: Mac and Cheese
2015: Honest and Abe
The 2016 turkeys, Tater and Tot, come from Storm Lake, Iowa; their names were suggested by the classmates of the children of Chris and Nicole Domino, the turkey farmers who raised the birds. Tater and Tot will live out the rest of their days at Virginia Tech, in a specially built enclosure called Gobblers Rest.
You can read more about the history of the presidential turkey pardon here. Whether or not you agree with John Oliver that this is a particularly ridiculous American tradition, we can all be thankful that at least we've come a long way from the Nixon era, when one doomed bird had his feet nailed to the table because he wouldn't behave for the press.