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What Thanksgiving Looked Like Through the Decades

These cherished vintage photos show families have celebrated Thanksgiving for generations.

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Thanksgiving Frolic 1920sAreldene Jenkins/Reminisce

1920s

Thanksgiving Frolic

Before joining the clan in an after-dinner frolic, 9-year-old Areldene Jenkins posed for a picture with her sister, Alice Jo, mother, Nellie, and father, Maynard, on Thanksgiving in 1922. Travel through time with vintage holiday recipes from every decade. 

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Singing Siblings 1930sCora Owen/Reminisce

1930s

Singing Siblings

“We four children, Tom, Irving, Mary Frances and I, gathered around the table to sing hymns on Sunday night in November 1934. We brightened our home with our singing, even though times were tough for our family,” says Cora Owen of Wiscasset, Maine. This is how much groceries cost the year you were born. 

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little boy froom the 1930s standing on snowy sidewalk next to a turkeyBecky Ward/Reminisce

From the Farm

“This is my dad, Don Kretzer, at the family farm in Ross County, Ohio, in about 1938. I suspect the turkey was soon to be dinner,” says Becky Ward of Bainbridge, Ohio. 

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a very large family sitting around the table during thanksgiving dinner, looking at the camera, 1930sRegina Pacheco/Reminisce

Gather Together

“Pearl and Ernest Leland Fielden, seated at the head of the table, enjoyed a 1930s Thanksgiving with their children and grandchildren in Knoxville, Tennessee,” writes Regina Pacheco. “My father, Ernest James, is the boy at the far right.” These fun Thanksgiving recipes will make you feel like a kid again. 

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1930s mother crouched down holding her babyLottie Tish/Reminisce

Turkey Trouble

Hubert Tish Jr. is pictured with his mother, Lottie, in the 1930s, around the time when her husband’s company gave each employee a live turkey for Thanksgiving. Lottie, a new mom with little cooking experience, wasn’t sure what to do next! Don’t make these common mistakes when cooking your turkey. 

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1930s woman jokingly biting a turkey leg while family looks on in confusion Bob Spring/Reminisce

Take a Drumstick

At holiday feasts with family, no one needs to be shy about taking seconds. This snapshot comes from Bob Spring of Bellingham, Washington. “The photo is of my mom clowning around with the turkey leg. It was taken in 1939,” he says.

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Older man carving tourkey while smiling at young boy 1930sBob Spring/Reminisce

1940s

Dad Carves the Turkey

Bob Spring shared another Thanksgiving photo from 1941. “I was engaged to Norma Johnson. Her dad, Norman, is carving turkey for his grandson Edwin,” says Bob Spring. These Thanksgiving dishes are ready in 30 minutes or less. 

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Man cuts turkey at the dinner table while young women smile at him and the cameraVilma Herzog/Country

Give Thanks for Freedom

Vilma’s dad carved the turkey for the annual Thanksgiving celebration honoring their new life in this country. Bring back these nearly forgotten Thanksgiving side dishes. 

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mother brings out plate of turkey to her family at the dinner table 1940sJudy Sikorski/Reminisce

Mom’s New Dishes

Judy’s mother, Mary Schultz, was delighted to serve Thanksgiving dinner on her new dishes, courtesy of a thoughtful Ladies Home Journal photographer, when the family was selected for an article in the magazine in 1948. Judy still uses the dishes for Thanksgiving today. These heirloom recipes are passed down from Grandma. 

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President Truman pardons turkey being held by woman and a group of men 1940sAbbie Rowe, National Park Service. Harry S. Truman Library & Museum

Presidential Pardon

In 1949, President Harry Truman received a gift turkey that likely became dinner. Today, two turkeys (one each for the president and vice president) get a Thanksgiving pardon. The birds usually go to a farm to live out their lives. Do you know the history of these popular Thanksgiving foods?

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vintage ad of family helping mom et the table for thanksgivingReminisce

1950s

Helping Hands

This 1952 ad for S.O.S. reminds Moms to get everyone in the family involved in preparing the big turkey dinner. And cleaning up will be so much easier with these magic scouring pads. Douglass Crockwell, a famous illustrator for the Saturday Evening Post, designed the heartwarming image. These tried-and-true cleaning tips actually work. 

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snowman float being wheeled down street during thanksgiving parade in Sheboygan Wi 1950sJoe Kleefish/Reminisce

Thanksgiving Parade

Like parades across the country, the Christmas parade in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 1952, starred the colorful balloon creations of Jean Gros. The parade featured more than 40 large balloons, including a smiling snowman. Learn incredible facts about the Macy’s Day Parade. 

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Father and daughters prepare to carve the turkeyJoan Hallford/Taste of Home

Holidays in a New Home

“This photo was taken in 1952, after my family had moved to Fort Worth, Texas. That is me on the left, with my dad and sister at Thanksgiving,” says Joan Hallford.

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little 1950s girl stares at turney with her tongue outGordon Kellen/Reminisce

Better Days

“Our family moved to California in the spring of 1948, and for the next few years, things were rather tough,” says Gordon Kellen of Fontana, California. “But by Thanksgiving 1953, things had become a bit better, and for the first time ever, our 3-year-old daughter, Susan, saw a cooked turkey. She could hardly wait for the feast, which we all enjoyed.” Stretch your dollars with budget-friendly dinners that are big on taste. 

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Multigenerational family stands behind thanksgiving dinner table to post for a photoLarry Miller/Reminisce

Generations Together

This 1953 scene is from Larry Miller of Muncie, Indiana. “Every Thanksgiving, three generations gathered at my folks’ house in Summitville,” he says, “and a group photo was a must. My sister Judy is at the center, our mother, Anna, is third from left, and I’m the handsome young man in back.” Serve these Thanksgiving dinner recipes to feed a crowd. 

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Husband carves the turkey with a silly face while wife watches onKenneth J. Kwilosz/Reminisce

The Dynamic Duo

Ken Kwilosz’s dad, Rudolph, carves the turkey in their kitchen while Mom, Frances, oversees the operation in 1954. The family lived in Chicago, Illinois, at the time. These tips make it easy to carve a turkey.

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bored boy in red bow tie sits patenintly at thanksgiving dinner tableTom Huonker/Reminisce

Holiday Crafts

“My brother Paul waits by the table on Thanksgiving 1954 at our home in Elmira, New York. Our usual centerpiece, a wax turkey, holds the spot where the meat platter will sit. Mom had us make paper pilgrims and a log cabin to bide the hours while the turkey cooked.” Keep the kids entertained with easy fall crafts. 

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two 1950s sisters laugh while they prey for the turkey on the tableEllen Baize/Reminisce

To Grandmother’s House

Ellen Baize and her sister were thankful to be at Grandma’s for the holidays in 1955. “Besides cooking the scrumptious dinner, she made our jumpers,” Ellen writes from Fort Davis, Texas. Bring back memories with Grandma’s best fall recipes. 

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a printed thanksgiving menu for service members in 1955Carl Gallagher/Reminisce

Thanksgiving in the Service

“In 1955, I was a private first class at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where specialties on the Thanksgiving menu included shrimp cocktail, candied sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie,” says Carl Gallagher of Haslett, Michigan. Check out more recipes to honor our troops in the military. 

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Infant boy smiles as he eats a turkey leg in his high chair on his first thanksgivingLucille Duh/Reminisce

Baby’s First Turkey

“On my son Mike’s first Thanksgiving, in 1955, he was hamming it up with his drumstick while his cousin, a month older, kept shying away from the camera,” writes Lucille Duh. This is when to start giving solid foods to your infant. 

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Phyllis Bebee/Reminisce

The Biggest Bird

“This picture was taken on Thanksgiving Day in 1956. My mother always cooked the biggest turkey she could find,” says Phyllis Bebee. “From the built-in buffet to the lazy Susan on the table, this picture depicts the wonderful 1950s.” These vintage colors are straight out of Mom’s kitchen. 

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little girl stands in front of car dressed in a black winter outfit and hand warmers, 1960sBarbara Mohr/Reminisce

Dressed for the Weather

Her eyes closed to the bright sun and her hands protected in a gigantic muff, Paula Mohr, now of Millington, Michigan, braves the brisk weather to pose next to the family’s Chevy on Thanksgiving in 1958. Her mother, Barbara, snapped the picture. These holiday recipes from the 1950s are worth trying today. 

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little girl looks into the camera as she takes bite out of turkey legM.R. Stevens/Reminisce

A Special Gift

“In 1958, Thanksgiving was an especially happy day for the Stevens family living at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri,” relates M.R. Stevens. “Annemarie, 3, got her Thanksgiving turkey and a baby sister on the same day!”

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family poses around the thanksgiving tableTom Huonker/Reminisce

Ready to Feast

“We gathered at the table just before eating in 1959 in Elmira, New York. I’m in the red-striped shirt between my maternal grandmother and my mother, Jean,” says Tom Huonker of Rochester, New York.

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kida posing around a turkey farm signMarcia Petrick/Reminisce

Turkey Farmers

“In the late 1950s, I got the crazy idea to move my family from Nebraska to Oregon—which seemed like the wild west back then. I’d raised turkeys in Nebraska, so I bought a turkey ranch south of Portland. We raised about 20,000 birds a year!” said Marcia Petrick’s dad, Phil Snyder. We found delicious recipes straight from the farm. 

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little boy making a mess with flour on the counterJean Dentler/Reminisce

1960s

Baking Disaster

“When faced with this scene in November 1960, all we could do is laugh and take a picture,” writes Jean Dentler of Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Our son, Scott, loved to play with his trucks and had found the perfect media to move about—a mess of flour and sugar!” Try these easy recipes you can bake with your kids. 

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older woman holding raw turkey above sink 1960sIna Briggs/Reminisce

Mama’s Recipes

“Every year, the rayon mill where Daddy worked gave its employees a turkey or ham for the holidays,” says Ina Briggs of Elizabethtown, Tennessee. “Mama was the best cook, and here she is in 1963 preparing the turkey. We also had sage dressing, gravy, and every vegetable she had preserved in the cellar, along with several different pies.” Psst—here’s the best ever Thanksgiving pie recipes! 

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little girl pretending to be cooked in oven on thanksgivingAnn Marie Eberhart/Taste of Home

Family Fun

“My sister was just over 2 years old when my folks made her the ‘turkey’ in 1964,” says Ann Marie Eberhart. Add some fun to the menu with these fall treats. 

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A father and mother pose with their three children 1960sMartha Karr/Reminisce

Vegetarian Thanksgiving

Ralph and Nancy Bell, pictured with their kids John, James and Martha in about 1965, retired to rural Washington to live closer to nature. They raised three turkeys for the holidays. But when the time came, Mom had a change of heart. “How can we possibly eat the turkeys that ran up to greet us every morning?” Nancy asked. So the family had Thanksgiving without a turkey. With these delicious vegetarian Thanksgiving recipes, you’ll never miss the meat. 

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man carves turkey with electric turkey carverBruce Thompson/Reminisce

Electric Knife

“Holiday tradition in our house meant that I carved the turkey. Here, getting directives from my wife, Joyce, I buzz into the bird with an electric knife—state of the art equipment in 1965,” says Bruce Thompson of Waukesha, Wisconsin. Check out these vintage kitchen tools Grandma couldn’t cook without. 

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people around thanksgiving table with lit red candlesReminisce

Soup Tradition

Else Wilson, the family chef, celebrated with her relatives at Thanksgiving around 1966. Vichyssoise, a cold potato soup, was a holiday tradition that the children weren’t so sure about. Everyone will love these tasty Thanksgiving soups.

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siblings sit at set dinner table in their retro 1960s kitchenBeatrice Bard/Reminisce

Retro Kitchen Style

“Janet and Craig Hutchens, my niece and nephew, were ready to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner at their Aunt Bea’s house in Renton, Washington,” says Beatrice Bard of Enumclaw, Washington. Check out those 1960s drapes and knotty pine paneling. 

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a man and woman prepare thanksgiving turkey in their cabinAnn Marie Eberhart/Taste of Home

Thanksgiving at the Cabin

“In 1966, my family celebrated Thanksgiving at a cabin near Yosemite in California, where we traveled for vacations,” says Ann Marie Eberhart. Learn how to grill a turkey. 

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Rosemary Campbell/Reminisce

Holiday Hot Pants

As married 20-somethings with children, Rosemary Campbell (left) and her sisters Deanna and Maureen dressed up to celebrate Thanksgiving at Deanna’s house in Camarillo, California, in 1969. Make the holiday stress-free with these make-ahead Thanksgiving recipes. 

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old polish woman prepares thanksgiving dinner Mary Ann Constanzer/Reminisce

1970s

The Old Ways

Even well into her 80s, Mary Ann Constanzer’s Aunt Clara used her old coal stove to make traditional Polish family recipes. Check out Grandma’s secret last-minute holiday recipes. 

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two older siblings wear funny pilgrim hats at the dinner tableKathleen McDonald/Reminisce

Perky Pilgrims

Pilgrim hats worn by siblings Don and Kathy were a fitting part of Thanksgiving festivities at their parents’ home in Albion, Pennsylvania, in 1979. 

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baby in cut out turkeyMolly Jasinski/Reminisce

1980s

Thanksgiving Joy

Molly Jasinski shared this photo of her as a child in 1988 having some Thanksgiving fun at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Add these fall activities to your seasonal bucket list.

Reminisce
Originally Published in Reminisce

Lori Vanover
Lori has been a writer and editor for 16 years, fueled by plenty of coffee and chocolate. She hopes to retire someday and become a hot pepper farmer, cake decorator or barbecue pitmaster.
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