Harland David (Colonel) Sanders was born on September 9, 1890 just outside of Henryville, Indiana. Harland’s father was a mild-mannered father who worked on an 80-acre farm. One day in 1895, he returned home with a fever and he passed away the next day. After his father’s death, Harland was required to look after and cook for his younger siblings. In 1902, Sanders’ mother remarried to a man named William Broaddus, and the family moved to Greenwood, Indiana. During this time period, Sanders decided to drop out of school after only completing the 6thgrade. Sanders stated that “Algebra is what drove me off.”
After dropping out of school, Sanders took a job painting horse carriages in Indianapolis. At the age of 14, Sanders moved to New Albany, Indiana, and between the ages of 14 and 16, he worked odd jobs as a street car conductor, steam engine stoker and a blacksmith helper. At the age of 16, he falsified his birth certificate so he could enlist into the U.S. Army. After a stint in the Army from which he was honorably discharged, he married Josephine King in 1909. In 1910, 1912, and 1919, Sanders had his first three children. Margaret was born on March 29, 1910, his second child Harland, Jr. was born in 1912 and his third, Mildred was born in 1919.
While Sanders was working on the railroad, he took some night classes to learn the law. He put the law degree to good use when he moved to Little Rock, Arkansas to practice law. He did this for three years until one day while in court, Sanders got into a brawl with his own client over some owed money. This was the last of Sanders’ law career.
In 1920, Sanders established a ferry boat company that operated on the Ohio River between Jeffersonville, Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky. In 1922, he cashed in his shares of the ferry boat company for 22 thousand dollars (309 thousand today.) He took this money and established a manufacturing company that made acetylene lamps. This business failed when Delco introduced the electric lamp. After this venture failed, he moved to Michigan to work as a salesman for Michelin Tire Company. This, however, was short-lived as the tire company shut down in 1924.
This was when Sanders started to run a service station in Nicholasville, KY. This job did not last long due to the great depression. However, it was this job that led him to take the job at the Shell Oil Company. It was while working for the Shell Oil Company that Sanders started serving chicken dishes to customers near his living quarters. After doing this for sometime, Sanders opened a restaurant serving the chicken.
While working at the Shell Oil Company, Sanders had a business rival named Matt Stewart who worked for the Standard Oil Company down the road. Matt Stewart would paint over the signs advertising his business. After doing this several times, Sanders told Stewart that the next time he did it he was going to shoot him. Then one day while Sanders was meeting with two Shell District Managers, they caught Stewart painting over the sign again. The men rushed over to stop him. Stewart saw them coming, jumped off the ladder and started shooting. Robert Gibson, one of the Shell District Managers, was killed by Stewart’s gun fire. Sanders grabbed the gun off of Gibson’s dead body and started to return fire. The case eventually went to trial, and Stewart was convicted of murder and got 18 years in prison. Sanders and the other Shell District Manager, H. D. Shelburne, were both found not guilty.
In 1935, the Governor of Kentucky, Ruby Laffon commissioned Sanders as a Kentucky Colonel. To be a Colonel in Kentucky meant to be recognized for “outstanding service to the community, state and nation.” The sitting governor of Kentucky or the Secretary of State for Kentucky are the only people who can present such an honor to an individual.
In 1939, Colonel Sanders opened a motel in Asheville, North Carolina, but the motel was destroyed by fire shortly afterward. Sanders decided to rebuild the motel into a 140-seat restaurant. While running this restaurant, Sanders finalized the secret recipe for frying chicken in a pressure fryer which cooked chicken faster than pan-frying. Once World War Two started, business started to slow for Sanders’ restaurant due to rationing of all oil and lack of tourism.
In 1947, Sanders divorced his wife Josephine. He remarried Claudia in 1949, and in 1950, he was recommissioned the Kentucky Colonel. In 1952, Sanders finished his secret recipe “Kentucky Fried Chicken,” and for the first time, restaurant sales more than tripled with 75 percent of that coming from the fried chicken. At the age of 65, Sanders sold his North Carolina restaurant to due to the new Interstate 75 reducing customer traffic. This left him with only his savings and 105 dollars a month from Social Security.
Sanders started to travel across the country trying to sell his chicken. He and his wife, Claudia, opened their headquarters in Shelbyville, Kentucky. He would often sleep in the back of his car while traveling the country visiting restaurants. He would offer to cook his chicken, and if the restaurant workers liked the chicken, Sanders and the restaurant would negotiate franchise rights. After sometime doing this, other restaurant owners would seek out Sanders for his chicken. With this growing popularity, Sanders would stay on the road, while his wife would stay back at the headquarters to mix spices and ship them to the restaurants.
The franchise method was highly successful for Sanders. Kentucky Fried Chicken was one of the first fast-food chains to expand internationally. Kentucky Fried Chicken was located in Canada, Mexico, England and Jamaica. In 1964, Sanders sold his company for 2 million dollars (15.4 Million today) and Sanders became a salaried brand ambassador. The deal did not include Canadian Operations (Sanders retained) or franchising rights in England, Florida, Utah and Montana because Sanders had already sold those.
In 1973, Sanders got into a legal battle with Heublein, Inc, who at the time was KFC’s parent company, over the appearance and image of his restaurants. Due to Sanders being upset about the appearance of his restaurants, Sanders and his wife reopened their Shelbyville, Kentucky, restaurant and named it “Claudia Sanders The Colonel’s Lady.” This restaurant served KFC style chicken and because of this was sued by the KFC’s parent company. The restaurant remains opened today under the name “Claudia Sanders Dinner House” it is the only restaurant not part of the KFC chain that serves the original recipe chicken.
Colonel Harland David Sanders was diagnosed with acute leukemia in June 1980, and died on December 16, 1980 at the age of 90. At the time of Sander’s death, there were over 6000 KFCs in 48 different countries with 2 billion dollars (5.8 billion today) in sales.