The Amazing Life of Colonel Harland David Sanders, Founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken
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 2015, it was estimated there were a combined 20,000 KFC locations in the United States and around the world.
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 and then became a butcher. His mother was a devout Christian and very strict with her children. Sander's father died when he was 5-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 left home. He got a job painting horse carriages and a year later 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.
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.
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 was let go for insubordination.
Sanders started a ferry boat company in 1920. The boat he operated was on the Ohio river and 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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.