Franklin and the turkey, both American icons, are far more complicated than most people realize. The early Spanish explorers took the New World bird to Europe where it quickly spread. By the early 16th century this domesticated bird made its way back again to Virginia and Massachusetts and onto the colonists' tables. As early as 1776 the growth in human population threatened that of wild turkeys. When Franklin was exploring the properties of electricity, he experimented on turkeys and found that electrocution tenderized their flesh. Later, his famous letter to his daughter, expressing his preference for the turkey to be the national bird rather than the eagle, was more polemical than genuine. In the last fifty years, efforts to restore the nearly extinct wild turkey have succeeded. The quality of the turkey on the American Thanksgiving table, over-bred and industrialized, needs to be restored as well.

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