Colonel Sanders Biography

(Founder of the Fast Food Chicken Restaurant ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ (KFC))

Birthday: September 9, 1890 (Virgo)

Born In: Henryville, Indiana, United States

Colonel Sanders was an American businessman, best known as the founder of the ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ (KFC) restaurant chain, 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 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 came up with 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 that he took seriously, and started dressing in a typical fashion. Later, he franchised ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ restaurants around the country. In 1964, when he sold his share of the company, it already had 600 outlets. 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.’ Today, over a billion of his “finger lickin’ good” chicken is served every year in more than 80 countries.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Colonel Harland David Sanders

Died At Age: 90


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

father: Wilbur David

mother: Margaret Ann Sanders

siblings: Catherine, Clarence

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

Born Country: United States

Quotes By Colonel Sanders Restaurateurs

Height: 5'10" (178 cm), 5'10" Males

Died on: December 16, 1980

place of death: Louisville, Kentucky, United States

Cause of Death: Pneumonia

Diseases & Disabilities: Leukemia

Ancestry: Irish American, Dutch American

Notable Alumni: La Salle Extension University

U.S. State: Indiana

Founder/Co-Founder: Kentucky Fried Chicken

More Facts

education: La Salle Extension University

Childhood & Early Life

Colonel Sanders was born Harland David Sanders on September 9, 1890, in Henryville, Indiana, USA, to Wilbur David and Margaret Ann. He had two siblings. Wilbur owned an 80-acre farm on which he worked until he broke his leg, post which he became a butcher.

Harland was only five when his father died of hay fever. His mother began to work in a tomato canning factory and the responsibility to cook for his younger siblings fell on his shoulders.

After his mother remarried in 1902, his family relocated to Greenwood, Indiana. Unable to get along with his stepfather, he left home and school to work as a farmhand and horse carriage painter.

In 1906, with his mother's permission, he left Greenwood for New Albany, Indiana where his uncle, an employee of a streetcar company, lived. His uncle was able to secure him a job as a conductor.

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Sanders faked his 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, which operated a ferry boat in Ohio, and became the company’s minority shareholder. He was appointed secretary of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, but he resigned.

He cashed out his share to found an acetylene lamp manufacturing company, which failed. Moving to Kentucky, he worked as a salesman. He then ran a service station that closed because of the Great Depression.

In 1930, he began operating a service station for ‘Shell Oil Company’ in Corbin, Kentucky. He began to cook and serve chicken, ham, and steaks to his customers.

By 1935, the service station had become famous for his ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken,’ which he prepared using 11 secret spices. His use of a pressure cooker reduced the preparation time from 30 to nine minutes.

In 1939, he bought a motel in Asheville, North Carolina. During ‘World War II,’ gas was rationed. As a result, the number of his customers dwindled, forcing him to shut down the motel.

He worked as a restaurant supervisor in Seattle until the end of 1942. He then operated government cafeterias. He even served as 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, the number of customers visiting his Corbin restaurant reduced due to the opening of the new Interstate 75. He sold the restaurant and traveled across the country to appoint franchisees.

Appointing franchisees was a good strategy. KFC became a pioneer food chain. By the mid-1960s, apart from its 600 American outlets, it boasted outlets in countries like 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, Canada.

In 1973, he sued ‘Heublein Inc.,’ which owned ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ at that time, for using his image to sell products that he had nothing to do with. Later, an agreement was reached between the two parties.

Major Works

Kentucky Governor Ruby Laffoon commissioned Sanders as Colonel. In 1939, food critic Duncan Hines visited his Corbin restaurant. He then recommended it in his culinary guide ‘Adventures in Good Eating.’

‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ helped Pete Harman's Salt City restaurant triple its profits in 1952. The restaurant stood out in many ways and was able to beat its competitors.

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. Two years later, he married his secretary Claudia Ledington. After selling his franchise, the two began living in their bungalow in Mississauga, Ontario.

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He dressed in a distinctive manner, initially wearing a black frock coat. He then began wearing a white suit and a black string tie. He sported a bleached goatee.

He created two institutions—‘Colonel Harland Sanders Trust’ and ‘Charitable Organization’— to support charities that took care of women and children. The institutions still provide funds to the ‘Trillium Health Care Centre,’ Ontario.

Diagnosed with acute leukemia in June 1980, he died of pneumonia in Louisville, Kentucky on December 16, 1980. He was buried in his distinctive white suit and black string tie at ‘Cave Hill Cemetery’ in Louisville.

In 2011, his manuscript on cooking was found in KFC archives. It includes some cooking recipes and anecdotes from his life, which KFC was planning to publish online.

At the time of Sanders' death, there were an estimated 6,000 KFC outlets in 48 countries worldwide, with $2 billion ($6.2 billion today) of sales annually.


The creator of KFC has been mentioned in the songs of artists like Afroman, ‘Beastie Boys,’ ‘Mr. Bungle,’ and “Weird Al” Yankovic. He was also mentioned in the song ‘Psycho Chicken’ by ‘The Fools.’

This culinary genius and businessman once said, “There's no reason to be the richest man in the cemetery. You can't do any business from there.”

Genevieve Przybelski is his great-great-great-granddaughter.

See the events in life of Colonel Sanders in Chronological Order

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