Skip to main content

The Amazing Life of Colonel Harland David Sanders, Founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken

Readmikenow has written about various medical conditions. He has previously written a series of articles on Polyarteritis nodosa.

Colonel Sanders outside Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant

Colonel Sanders outside Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant

During his life, Harland David Sanders held numerous jobs. He worked as everything from an insurance salesman to filling station operator to steam engine stoker and more. During the Great Depression, Sanders started selling fried chicken at a roadside restaurant in Kentucky. He realized the concept of restaurant franchising had tremendous potential. In 1952, the first Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) franchise opened for business in Utah. It was an instant success. KFC franchise restaurants quickly opened all over the United States and around the world. Sanders sold the company in 1964 to a group of investors for $2 million. As of 2020, there are over 24,000 KFC locations around the world.

Early Life

Harland David Sanders was born in Henryville, Indiana, on September 9, 1890. He was the oldest of three children. His father was a farmer until an accident led to him becoming a butcher. His mother was a devout Christian and very strict with her children. Sander's father died when he was five-years-old. His mother required him to cook for his younger siblings. According to his siblings, by the time Sanders turned seven, he could prepare a good meal of bread, vegetables, and meat. At the age of 10, Sanders began to work as a farmhand.

In 1903, Sanders quit school, and at the age of 13, he left home. He got a job painting horse carriages, and a year later, he worked as a farmhand in southern Indiana. In 1906, Sanders moved in with his uncle and got a job as a streetcar conductor. Later that year, he falsified documents to join the Army. After serving in Cuba, he was given an honorable discharge. In 1907, he moved to Alabama and lived with his brother. There he was able to get a job helping a blacksmith. He eventually got a job cleaning out the ash pans of railroad cars. At the age of 17, he was a fire stoker for a railroad.

Colonel Sanders with daughters

Colonel Sanders with daughters


Sanders was working at a railroad when he met Josephine King from Jasper, Alabama. They were married shortly after meeting. This couple had a son who passed away from infected tonsils. They also had two daughters named Mildred and Margaret. Sanders divorced Josephine in 1947. He then married Claudia Ledington-Price in 1949.

Professional Career

Sanders found work as a fireman with the Illinois Central Railroad and moved his family to Jackson, Tennessee. During this time, Sanders studied law by correspondence with La Salle Extension University. He began to practice law in Little Rock, Arkansas. After a few years, he was doing well. Sanders legal career came to a close when he engaged in a courtroom brawl with a person he was representing. Sanders then went to work for the Pennsylvania Railroad. He tried a job selling life insurance for Prudential Life Insurance, but he was let go for insubordination.

Young Colonel Sanders

Young Colonel Sanders

Starting Companies

Sanders started a ferry boat company in 1920. The boat he operated was on the Ohio river, and it sailed between Louisville and Jeffersonville in Kentucky. The ferry company was very successful. Sanders took a job as secretary of the Chamber of Commerce in the town of Columbus in Indiana. He sold his shares of the ferry boat company and used them to start a company making acetylene lamps. The company did well until Delco started selling their electric lamps with credit.

First Restaurant

Shell Oil Company offered a service station to Sanders in 1930. It would be rent free; the company only wanted a certain percentage of the sales from the service station. This was when Sanders started serving chicken dishes. He also provided a number of other meals such as steaks, hams and more. In 1935, Sanders was commissioned as a Kentucky Colonel by Kentucky governor Ruby Laffoon. The popularity of Sander’s food increased. His restaurant and service station impressed representatives of Duncan Hines. They included Sander's business in a guide to good restaurants. The guide was called “Adventure in Good Eating.”

Secret Recipe

Sanders purchased a motel located in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1939. He turned it into a restaurant and motel. It was destroyed by a fire the same year. Sanders rebuilt the structure into a motel with a restaurant able to seat over 139 people. Sanders developed his “Secret Recipe” in 1940. It involved frying chicken in a pressure fryer. When World War II started, gas was rationed. His business from tourists stopped. Sanders had to close his restaurant and motel. Sanders then ran cafeterias for the government and also worked as a cafeteria manager in Tennessee.

Colonel Sanders at place where Kentucky Fried Chicken started

Colonel Sanders at place where Kentucky Fried Chicken started

Kentucky Fried Chicken

Sanders franchised his secret recipe in 1952. He offered it to Pat Harmon of South Salt Lake, Utah. Harman operated one of the largest restaurants in Salt Lake City. During the first twelve months of selling chicken using Sanders secret recipe, the restaurant’s sales of fried chicken increased over 74 percent. The chicken was a way Harman differentiated his restaurant from others in the area. A sign painter hired by Harman named Don Anderson was the first person to use the term “Kentucky Fried Chicken.”

Colonel Sanders making chicken

Colonel Sanders making chicken

Franchise Opportunity

After selling a restaurant he owned, Sanders was 65 and only had a small amount of savings and $105 a month from Social Security for income. He decided to expand the franchising his fried chicken concept. He drove around the United States looking for restaurants he believed would benefit from it. Sanders was on the road for long hours and often slept in the back of his car. He visited restaurants and offered to show them his fried chicken by making some for them. If the people at the restaurant like it, Sanders would negotiate franchise rights to use his method of making fried chicken.


Sanders franchise approach took time but became popular. One of the initial fast food chains to expand into other countries was Kentucky Fried Chicken. During the 1960s, restaurants opened in England, Canada, Jamaica as well as Mexico. In 1962, Sanders was able to obtain a patent for his method of cooking chicken. The phrase “It's Finger Lickin' Good,” was trademarked by Sanders in 1963.

Brand Ambassador

The expansion of Sander's company to hundreds of locations around the world overwhelmed him. He sold his Kentucky Fried Chicken Corporation in 1964 when he was 73. Sanders then became a salaried brand ambassador for the company. He became the symbol of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Sanders traveled hundreds of thousands of miles each year on behalf of the company. He made many appearances and filmed several television commercials. He also had a reputation for swearing at franchise owners who didn't provide what he considered the Colonel's chicken. Sanders would make surprise visits to KFC restaurants, and if the food didn't meet his standards, he would swear and throw it on the floor.

Grave marker for Colonel Harland David Sanders

Grave marker for Colonel Harland David Sanders


In June of 1980, Sanders was diagnosed with acute Leukemia. On December 16, 1980, Colonel Harland David Sanders passed away at the age of 90. He remained active making appearances in his white suit until a month prior to his death. Sanders was buried in Cave Hill Cemetery in Kentucky. When he was buried, Sanders was wearing his characteristic white suit with black western string tie.


Readmikenow (author) on June 10, 2019:

Credence 2, thank you for sharing the story of Colonel Sanders. I'm sure you would be amazed at the creativity of Rightwingers. Thanks, I appreciate your comment.

Credence2 on June 10, 2019:

You have a treasure trove of very interesting articles. How can someone as creative and prolific as you are be a Rightwinger?

I met Colonel Harlan Sanders in his full dress regalia at Stapleton International Airport in Denver while an after school employee at a concession stand there during the Spring of 1971.

Readmikenow (author) on March 24, 2019:

Madan, Thanks! Yeah, he was an incredible man.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on March 24, 2019:

Very interesting and added to my knowkwdge

Readmikenow (author) on March 24, 2019:

Vincent, Thank you! I appreciate the words you shared.

vincent phelanyane cyse on March 24, 2019:

its true behind every success story there is a struggle. and that you should always want more, refuse to live life as it is. so believe that if it's going to happen it's up to you.

Readmikenow (author) on May 29, 2018:

Yves, thanks for stopping by. I agree with you. It is an inspiring story.

savvydating on May 29, 2018:

Oh boy! Talk about the concept of "never giving up." That was the Sanders model, even if he never claimed it. I have to say, this story is very inspiring. It's always interesting to learn about successful people whose lives were mostly one heartache after the other. So glad the Colonel lived to enjoy his own success, at long last. Great story.

Readmikenow (author) on January 26, 2018:

Linda, thanks. He is a true inspiration to all of us.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 25, 2018:

I enjoyed learning about Colonel Sanders' life. I first heard about him after he had become successful, so it was interesting to learn about his earlier life. It's certainly inspiring to hear that he began the road to success at the age of sixty-five!

Readmikenow (author) on October 05, 2017:

Catherine, thanks. Colonel Sanders is an inspiration for never giving up no matter what.

Catherine Giordano from Orlando Florida on October 05, 2017:

What I have always loved about the story of "Colonel" Sanders is that he began his franchise business at age 65. I use his story as an example of how it is never too late to match your talents to your passion and achieve success. However, I did not know much about the man's life story. Thank you for filling me in.

Readmikenow (author) on September 21, 2017:

Mary, thanks. I agree. He was a unique individuals.

Mary Wickison from USA on September 20, 2017:

He had the determination to keep going.

Tony Robbins relates Col. Sanders story in his talks. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to get people to accept a recipe for fried chicken and pay you to use it?

He is the stuff of legends.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on September 11, 2017:

The Colonel was an interesting dude. Great read!

Readmikenow (author) on September 09, 2017:

S Maree, thank you for sharing such a great story.

S Maree on September 08, 2017:

My grandmother used to enjoy traveling in the late 1960's and on one flight she happened to be seated next to Col. Sanders. She regaled us with the experience, extolling his gentlemanly mien.

She also alarmed us by gushing that she told him "all about my girls". She had four daughters and four granddaughters at the time and we could only hope he wasn't bored silly. She really liked to talk about us!

At least he didn't ask for a new seat! We were always grateful that he allowed Grandma to bend his ear. She didn't seem to ask HIM much, as when I asked her what he had to say, she simply said "Oh, he was SUCH a gentleman"! Good thing she wasn't a KFC manager!

Thank you for answering the question for me!