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Who is Colonel Sanders?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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The man recognized worldwide as Colonel Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), was actually born Harland David Sanders in Henryville, Indiana in 1890. He dropped out of school at a young age and worked a number of odd jobs, few of which involved cooking fried chicken. It wasn't until Sanders became 40 years old that word of his exceptionally good fried chicken even got out locally. The colonel began selling fried chicken out of his service station, then eventually from a modest restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky.

The "Colonel" in Colonel Sanders's nickname is an honorary title bestowed on prominent Kentucky citizens. The real Harland Sanders only reached the rank of private during his actual military service. Sanders apparently enjoyed the prestige and respect generated by his "Kentucky Colonel" status, and fashioned an entire public persona around it, including a pure white suit and an Old Southern gentleman bearing. The grandfatherly image became the much-beloved symbol of the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise.

Fried chicken prepared in a Southern tradition was not a new food offering in Colonel Sanders's day. What Sanders did was find a way to reduce the amount of time it took to fry chicken thoroughly. By using a pressure cooker along with a traditional deep fryer, he made it possible to serve fried chicken in roughly the same amount of time as it took to make a hamburger or other popular fast-service item. The secret recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken consisted of 11 herbs and spices, but it was the speed of cooking that revolutionized the fried chicken industry.

Colonel Sanders eventually sold his interest in Kentucky Fried Chicken in the mid-1960s, but he agreed to stay on as its most recognized symbol. When the new KFC changed the recipe of his gravy during the 1970s, however, Colonel Sanders famously derided it as "wallpaper paste". Although KFC does own the image of Colonel Sanders, the real Harland Sanders occasionally tried to distance himself from what he viewed as inferior versions of his original recipes.

Harlan "Colonel" Sanders died from leukemia in 1980 at the age of 90. His image is still used on KFC packaging and promotional materials, and the parent company of KFC has been known to hire Colonel Sanders look-alikes to appear in commercials and public promotions.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to PublicPeople, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon162143 — On Mar 22, 2011

Wow, I have always wondered about the history of Mr. Sanders and I am delighted and fascinated to hear more. He seems like he was a nice person. I am deeply disappointed that the modern KFC restaurants have changed the batter. I remember when it was true Sanders batter. Now it is soggy, has less flavourful spices and has lost its heritage. God Bless Mr. Sanders.

By anon56095 — On Dec 11, 2009

I met and worked for Colonel Sanders back in the late 60's. He awarded me his Colonel pin. I have a picture of us together. He told me that he sold his chicken out his kitchen window. I was also told that at that time, he was making five cents off of each piece of chicken sold.

Also, the stores back then were spotless! Something that I do not see in the stores today. General managers used to say "if you can lean, you can clean".

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to PublicPeople, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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