Skip to main content

By the numbers: Thanksgiving and the Presidents

By Amy Roberts, CNN Library
updated 1:36 PM EST, Thu November 22, 2012
With daughters Sasha and Malia looking on, President Barack Obama pardons Cobbler, the National Thanksgiving Turkey, at The White House Wednesday.
With daughters Sasha and Malia looking on, President Barack Obama pardons Cobbler, the National Thanksgiving Turkey, at The White House Wednesday.
  • Presidents have played a role in the annual Thanksgiving celebration since 1789
  • President Obama continued the tradition by pardoning a turkey at The White House this week
  • One president opted for possum instead of turkey for his Thanksgiving meal

(CNN) -- Throughout American history, the annual celebration of family and gratitude known as Thanksgiving has been a central part of The White House and the U.S. presidency.

This week, President Barack Obama kept the tradition alive by pardoning Cobbler, the National Thanksgiving Turkey, in a Rose Garden ceremony. His feathered understudy, Gobbler, was also allowed to live, and both birds will live out the rest of their days on display at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens in Virginia.

Here is a look, by the numbers, at Thanksgiving and the role American presidents have played in the holiday over the years:

1 - The first one was in 1789, when President George Washington issued a proclamation naming November 26 as a day of national thanksgiving.

1 - Number of weeks ahead the usual annual date of Thanksgiving was moved by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in order to boost the Christmas shopping season.

What happens to pardoned turkeys?
Obama gives turkeys second chance

4th - The Thursday in November set aside by Congress in 1941 to be observed as Thanksgiving Day and a federal legal holiday.

65 - Years since the first turkey presentation at the White House.

2 - Turkeys pardoned by President Obama each year since he has been in office.

1 - Turkey pardoned by Obama in 2011 that, after a sudden and mysterious illness, was euthanized this week at the Mount Vernon Estate in Alexandria, Virginia, former home of George Washington and retirement resort for presidentially-pardoned avians.

26 lbs. - Weight of the Georgia possum served for Thanksgiving dinner in 1909 to President William Howard Taft and his family in the White House.

600 - Members of the 1st Armored Division and the 82nd Airborne Division serving in Iraq who were joined by President George W. Bush for their Thanksgiving dinner in 2003.

4 - Total number of visits Bush made to Iraq as president since the war began in 2003.

1 bite - Amount of turkey eaten by former President Bill Clinton on Thanksgiving Day in 2011, who told CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta he lives a [mostly] vegan lifestyle these days.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:03 AM EST, Thu November 27, 2014
turkey head
When the guests around your Thanksgiving table are busy stuffing their bellies, dazzle them with some tasty turkey trivia.
updated 4:01 AM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
If a reservation feels like the best thing you could make for Thanksgiving dinner this year, you're not alone.
updated 6:02 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
As we all know, Thanksgiving isn't always the harmonious holiday it's sometimes made out to be.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Thu November 27, 2014
With a storm threatening the East Coast, travelers are starting to wonder whether they'll even get to the dinner table on time.
updated 12:07 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Want to make Norman Rockwell roll over in his grave? This Thanksgiving, make some new traditions with friends and family.
updated 9:52 AM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Tofurky and its competitors are a far gobble from a real bird. But add some stuffing and gravy and many agree you have an equally worthy Thanksgiving centerpiece.
updated 2:03 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
pumpkin pie
Our goal is to send you into Thanksgiving with a confident smile on your face, and seeing you emerge on the other side with your sanity intact. It can happen.
updated 2:12 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
The stakes couldn't be higher for making a perfectly bronzed and juicy turkey. Don't take chances -- we'll show you exactly how.
updated 2:01 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Looking for the perfect mac and cheese recipe to wow your family? Try these.
updated 1:45 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
vegan Thanksgiving
Chances are you have a vegan in your life. And perhaps that vegan is threatening a visit to your Thanksgiving table this year. Don't be scared.
updated 8:44 AM EST, Wed November 27, 2013
My mother, brother, cousin and I gathered in my 87-year-old grandmother's room at the nursing home. We knew it would be one of the last times we would see her alive.
updated 5:14 PM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
Everything you need to know about this November holiday.
updated 11:14 AM EST, Thu November 14, 2013
Thanksgiving is the busiest travel holiday of the year, with tens of millions expected to hit the road over the extended four-day weekend.
updated 8:51 AM EST, Thu November 21, 2013
Martha Stewart lends some great ideas for the center of your Thanksgiving table.
updated 7:58 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Here's some background information about Thanksgiving Day, celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday in November.
updated 6:10 AM EST, Mon November 19, 2012
These clever strategies will help you handle Thanksgiving with less stress and more sanity.
updated 11:21 AM EST, Mon November 19, 2012
What topics do you avoid over dinner? How do you coordinate visiting all of your relatives? Real Simple breaks it down.