Colonel Sanders Biography

Colonel Sanders was the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). This biography profiles his childhood, life, business career, achievements & timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: September 9, 1890

Nationality: American

Famous: Quotes By Colonel Sanders Restaurateurs

Died At Age: 90

Sun Sign: Virgo

Also Known As: Colonel Harland David Sanders

Born in: Henryville

Famous as: Founder of KFC


Spouse/Ex-: Claudia Price (m. 1948–1980), Josephine King (m. 1909–1947)

father: Wilbur David

mother: Margaret Ann Sanders

siblings: Clarence

children: Harland David Sanders, Jr., Margaret Sanders, Mildred Sanders Ruggles

Died on: December 16, 1980

place of death: Louisville

U.S. State: Indiana

Founder/Co-Founder: Kentucky Fried Chicken

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Harland Sanders was the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), which emerged as a fast-food sensation in the 1960s. He left home as a young lad, and did a variety of jobs including that of a farm help, conductor, railroad fireman, salesman and a soldier in the U.S Army, but found it difficult to keep a job for long. He began cooking chicken for customers at his service station in Corbin, Kentucky, during the height of the Great Depression. After years of experimentation, he achieved his secret mix of 11 herbs and spices. The pressure cooker, a novelty at that time, was used by him for cooking the chicken. It reduced the preparation time and enabled him to serve more customers. He was given the honorific title 'Colonel'—something he took seriously, and would dress in a typical fashion. Later, he franchised Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants around the country. In 1964, when he sold his share in the company - it already had 600 outlets nationwide and some abroad. He continued to be associated with the company as its spokesman and brand ambassador. He published his autobiography, ‘Life As I Have Known It Has Been Finger Lickin' Good’. Now, over a billion of his “finger lickin’ good” chicken is served every year, in more than 80 countries.

Childhood & Early Life
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  • Sanders arranged falsified date of birth to join the U.S Army in 1906. He was discharged three months later, on completion of his service commitments. He began living with an uncle in Sheffield, Alabama.
  • From 1907 to 1920, he moved from one job to another - he worked as a blacksmith’s help, fireman, lawyer (he had acquired a law degree through a correspondence course), insurance salesman and laborer.
  • In 1920, he established a ferry boat company, operated a ferry boat on the Ohio, and became the company’s minority shareholder. He was appointed secretary of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, but resigned.
  • He cashed his share to found an acetylene lamp manufacturing company that flopped. Moving to Kentucky, he worked as a salesman, then ran a service station that closed when the Great Depression set in.
  • In 1930, he began operating a service station for the Shell Oil Company in Corbin, Kentucky. He began to cook and serve chicken, ham and steaks to his customers in his living quarters nearby.
  • By 1935, the Corby service station became famous for his ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ which he prepared using 11secret spices. His use of a pressure cooker reduced the preparation time from 30 to 9 minutes.
  • In 1939, he bought a motel in Asheville, North Carolina. During World War II gas was rationed, and as the number of customers dwindled, so he closed the motel.
  • He worked as a restaurant supervisor in Seattle until the end of 1942. He next operated government cafeterias at an Ordinance Works, and was an assistant manager at a cafeteria in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
  • In 1952, Pete Harman became the first franchisee of "Kentucky Fried Chicken". Harman operated South Salt Lake city’s largest restaurants. Don Anderson, a sign painter hired by Harman, coined the name Kentucky Fried Chicken.
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  • In 1955, customer traffic in his Corbin restaurant fell due to the opening of the new Interstate 75. He sold the restaurant and travelled the country to appoint franchisees for his chicken.
  • Appointing franchisees was a good strategy. KFC became a pioneer food chain to expand internationally. By the mid 1960s, apart from its 600 American outlets, it boasted of outlets in Canada, England, Mexico and Jamaica.
  • In 1964, he sold the Kentucky Fried Chicken Corporation for $ 2 million to John Y. Brown, Jr. He retained the Canadian operations and moved to Mississauga, Ontario.
  • In 1973, he sued the Heublein Inc. which owned Kentucky Fried Chicken then, for using his image to sell products he had nothing to do with. Later, an agreement was reached between the two parties.
Major Works
  • Kentucky governor, Ruby Laffoon, commissioned Sanders as a Kentucky Colonel. In 1939, food critic Duncan Hines visited his Corbin restaurant and recommended it in his culinary guide, ‘Adventures in Good Eating’.
  • Kentucky Fried Chicken helped Pete Harman's Salt City restaurant triple profits in 1952. The restaurant stood out as the only one to offer the dish and thus was able to beat competition.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • In 1908, Colonel Sanders married Josephine King. They had three children, Harland, Jr., Mildred Ruggles, and Margaret. Josephine took the children to live with her parents when he kept losing jobs.
  • In 1947, he divorced Josephine, and two years later, married his secretary Claudia Ledington. After selling his franchise, the two began living in their bungalow in Mississauga, Ontario.
  • He dressed in a distinctive manner like a southern gentleman, initially wearing a black frock coat. He then began wearing a white suit, fitting a string tie. He sported a bleached goatee.
  • He created two institutions– the Colonel Harland Sanders Trust and Charitable Organization to support charities for the care of women and children. The trusts still provide funds to the Trillium health Care Centre, Ontario.
  • Diagnosed with acute leukemia in 1980, he died in Louisville, Kentucky, and was buried in his distinctive white suit and black string tie in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.
  • In 2011, a manuscript of a book on cooking that he wrote was found in KFC archives. It includes some cooking recipes and anecdotes from his life which KFC was planning to publish online.
  • The KFC creator has been mentioned in the lyrics of songs by Afroman, the Beastie Boys, Mr. Bungle, Weird Al Yankovic, and in the song ‘Psycho Chicken’ by The Fools.
  • This culinary genius and businessman said, “There's no reason to be the richest man in the cemetery. You can't do any business from there”.

See the events in life of Colonel Sanders in Chronological Order

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