Skip to main content

Colonel Harland Sanders

Founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken

Colonel Harland SandersAt age 65, Colonel Harland Sanders began franchising his chicken business using his $105 monthly Social Security check. Today, Kentucky Fried Chicken operates more than 5,200 restaurants in the United States and more than 15,000 units around the world.

When Sanders was only 6, his father died. So at a young age, he had to care for his siblings and did much of the family cooking. At 7 years old, Sanders already had mastered several regional dishes. When he was 40 years old, he began cooking for hungry travelers at a service station in Corbin, Kentucky. Sanders did not have a restaurant, but instead served guests at his own dining room table. As word spread and more people started coming for the food, he moved across the street to a motel and restaurant that seated 142 people. During the next nine years, he perfected his secret blend of 11 herbs and spices that is still used today. This special recipe remains a closely guarded secret.

In the late 1930s, Sanders went to a demonstration on a new device called the pressure cooker that turned out great-tasting green beans in a matter of minutes. He started to wonder if it would do the same for his chicken. After experimenting with the pressure cooker, he came out with the best fried chicken he had ever tasted. To this day KFC still fries its chicken in pressure cookers.

In 1952, Sanders devoted himself to the chicken-franchising business. He traveled across the country and cooked batches of his chicken for restaurant owners and their employees. It was agreed that for each piece of chicken sold, he would be paid a nickel. Deals were sealed with only a verbal agreement and a handshake. By 1964, there were more than 600 franchised outlets for his chicken. In that same year, Sanders sold his interest in the company for $2 million, and remained a predominant spokesman.

Colonel Sanders was the recipient of the Horatio Alger Award in 1965. In 1976, the Colonel was named world’s second most recognizable celebrity.

At the age of 90, the Colonel was stricken with leukemia. Until his death in 1980, he traveled 250,000 miles a year, visiting the KFC empire that he had founded. KFC remains the world’s most popular chicken restaurant chain.