What Thanksgiving Looked Like Through the Decades
These cherished vintage photos show families have celebrated Thanksgiving for generations.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
“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.
“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.
“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!
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pilgrim hats worn by siblings Don and Kathy were a fitting part of Thanksgiving festivities at their parents’ home in Albion, Pennsylvania, in 1979.
Molly Jasinski shared this photo of her as a child in 1988 having some Thanksgiving fun at the Milwaukee County Zoo.