Colonel Harland David Sanders & KFC

I have always been inspired by the life of Colonel Sanders, since I saw him once at a KFC restaurant when I was a boy (~1980). I wanted to share the short story of his life with you, and I hope you find him as inspiring as I do.

Harland David Sanders, better known as “Colonel Sanders” (September 9, 1890 – December 16, 1980) was an American entrepreneur who founded Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). His image is omnipresent in the chain’s advertising and packaging, and his name is sometimes used as a synonym for the KFC product or the restaurant itself.

Sanders was born to a Presbyterian family in Henryville, Indiana. His father, Wilbur David Sanders, died when he was five years old, and since his mother worked, he was required to cook for his family. A year later he was already a master at cooking several regional dishes. He dropped out of school in seventh grade. When his mother remarried he ran away from home because his stepfather beat him. He enlisted in the Army as a private when he was only 16 years old (by lying about his age), and spent his service commitment in Cuba. Afterwards, Sanders worked many jobs, including farm hand, streetcar conductor, blacksmith’s helper, railyard fireman, insurance salesman, steamboat pilot, tire salesman and service station operator for Standard Oil, but throughout all these experiences, his skill as a cook remained.

At the age of 40, in the midst of the great depression, Sanders operated a gas station in Corbin, Kentucky. Because times were hard, Sanders often cooked chicken dishes and other meals for people who stopped at his service station. He served his food to his customers in his living quarters in the service station, since he did not have a restaurant. Soon, because of increasing demand, he opened his first restaurant in the small front room of his gas station. Sanders served as the station operator, chief cook and cashier, and he named the dining area “Sanders Court & Café”. His local popularity grew, and Sanders acquired an adjacent motel where he opened a restaurant that seated 142 people. He continued working as the chef, and hired others to operate the station and perform other services. Over the next nine years, he developed his method of cooking chicken. The pressure cooker was invented in 1939, and he used this new technology to give his customers fresh chicken faster than by pan frying.By 1940, he had perfected the original recipe, with the famously delicious “11 herbs and spices”, which continues to be one of the best kept trade secrets, even to this day.

He was given the honorary title “Kentucky Colonel” in 1935 by Governor Ruby Laffoon. As a way of self-promotion, Sanders chose to call himself “Colonel” and to dress in a white suit, which was the stereotypical “Southern gentleman” style.

In the early 1950’s, an interstate highway (75) was built, and he was forced to sell the property where his restaurant was located, to make room for the construction. As a result, his business suffered heavily. In 1955, Sanders was 65 years old and was eligible to retire. After selling the service station and paying off his debts, he was broke. But his spirit wasn’t. Instead of retiring quietly, Sanders decided to get on the road and sell his Secret Recipe to other restaurants. Confident of the quality of his fried chicken, he traveled across the country by car from restaurant to restaurant, cooking batches of chicken for restaurant owners and their employees. If the reaction was favorable, he entered into a handshake agreement on a deal that stipulated a payment to him of a nickel for each order of chicken the restaurant sold. Sanders began franchising Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants, and he used the money from his Social Security retirement checks to fund his visits to potential franchisees.

Tony Robbins, a motivational speaker, says that Sanders was rejected 1,009 times while trying to establish his franchise, but over time, with his tenacious perseverance, his restaurant slowly grew into the now internationally famous restaurant chain, KFC. He completely devoted himself to selling his chicken franchise business, and within ten years he had over 600 franchises in the U.S. and Canada. Now, Colonel Sanders is the official face of KFC, and appears on the logo as well as numerous advertisements and promotions of the fast food chain.

In 1964, Sanders sold the Kentucky Fried Chicken corporation for $2 million to a partnership of Kentucky businessmen headed by John Y. Brown, Jr, who later became governor of Kentucky. The deal did not include the Canadian operations.

In 1965 Sanders moved to Mississauga , Ontario to oversee his Canadian franchises, as he continued to collect franchise fees. Sanders also became a spokesperson for Kentucky Fried Chicken and collected appearance fees for his visits to franchises in the United States and Canada. He continued to appear on TV and radio commercials for another 15 years until his death. By 1976, Colonel Sanders was ranked the world’s second most recognized celebrity by an independent survey.

Sanders later used his shares to create the Colonel Harland Sanders Trust and Colonel Harland Sanders Charitable Organization, based in Sidney, British Columbia, which used the proceeds to aid charities and fund scholarships. His trusts continue to donate money to groups like the Trillium Health Care Centre. In fact, one wing of their building specializes in women’s and children’s care and has been named after him. The foundation granted over $1,000,000 in 2007, according to its 2007 tax return.

One year before his death, in 1979, Colonel Sanders publicly professed his testimony of faith, saying he was a “born-again Christian”, and wrote about it in a book named, “The Incredible Colonel”. He authored another book entitled, “Life As I Have Known It Has Been ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’”, and another, “It Wasn’t All Gravy”, which was a collection of personal anecdotes that depicted the active fellow that he was, from his hard times in Corbin, Kentucky, through the rise of both the Colonel and Kentucky Fried Chicken to international prominence. He also has a biography compiled by the KFC Corporation, ”Colonel Harland Sanders: From Corbin to the World”.

In 1980, at the age of 90, he travelled 250,000 miles a year visiting Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants all around the world before he was seriously struck down by leukemia. Sanders died in Louisville, Kentucky, of pneumonia on December 16, 1980. He had been diagnosed with acute leukemia the previous June. His funeral service at the Southern Baptist Seminary Chapel, was attended by more than 1,000 people, and afterwards, there was a state ceremony in the rotunda of the Kentucky state capitol building. He was buried in his characteristic white suit and black western string tie in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville . He had a son, Harland, Jr., who died at a young age, and two daughters, Margaret Sanders and Mildred Ruggles.

Colonel Sanders was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 2000, and today, Colonel Sanders restaurant, Kentucky Fried Chicken, is in more than 80 countries of the world, with an annual revenue of several billions of dollars.

About Jack

Jack is a world traveling artist, skilled in trading ideas and information, none of which are considered too holy, too nerdy, nor too profane to hijack and twist into useful fashion. Sigma Frame Mindsets and methods for building and maintaining a masculine Frame
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3 Responses to Colonel Harland David Sanders & KFC

  1. Vera Evans says:

    A fried chicken genius. Strange but beautiful.


  2. Pingback: Personal Wealth and Service | Σ Frame

  3. Pingback: On Choosing a Career | Σ Frame

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