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Who is Colonel Sanders?

Colonel Sanders, the iconic founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), revolutionized fast food with his secret blend of 11 herbs and spices. His image symbolizes home-style cooking on a global scale. But how did a humble farmer become a fast-food legend? Discover the journey that turned a simple recipe into an international sensation. What's the real story behind the Colonel's success?
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

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.

Colonel Sanders died of leukemia in 1980.
Colonel Sanders died of leukemia in 1980.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was Colonel Sanders and why is he famous?

Colonel Harland David Sanders, born on September 9, 1890, was an American businessman and the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). He is famous for creating and popularizing his secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices for fried chicken, which became a fast-food sensation worldwide. Sanders began selling fried chicken from his roadside restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky, during the Great Depression, and his success led to the global franchise known as KFC.

What is the significance of the title "Colonel" in Colonel Sanders' name?

The title "Colonel" in Colonel Sanders' name is an honorary title bestowed upon him by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. In 1935, Governor Ruby Laffoon recognized Sanders' contributions to the state's cuisine by commissioning him as a Kentucky Colonel. The title is symbolic and does not reflect military service, but Sanders embraced it as part of his personal and professional identity, often appearing in his iconic white suit and string tie.

How did Colonel Sanders develop his secret recipe?

Colonel Sanders developed his secret recipe for fried chicken in 1939 after years of experimentation. He aimed to create a unique flavor that would set his chicken apart from others. Sanders used a pressure fryer to cook his chicken faster than pan-frying, which helped retain moisture and flavor. The recipe, which includes 11 herbs and spices, remains a closely guarded secret, with KFC claiming that only a few people know the complete recipe at any given time.

What was Colonel Sanders' role in KFC after selling the company?

After selling Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1964, Colonel Sanders remained the brand's ambassador and symbol. Despite selling the company, he maintained an active role in promoting KFC, appearing in advertisements, making public appearances, and ensuring that franchisees adhered to his high standards for serving quality fried chicken. His image continues to be synonymous with KFC, and he is an enduring figure in American cultural history.

How has Colonel Sanders' legacy impacted the fast-food industry?

Colonel Sanders' legacy has had a profound impact on the fast-food industry. He was a pioneer in the franchising model, turning KFC into one of the first international restaurant chains. His emphasis on a consistent, quality product and a unique branding strategy set a precedent for the industry. Today, KFC is a global brand with over 24,000 restaurants in more than 145 countries and territories, demonstrating the lasting influence of Sanders' entrepreneurial spirit.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular PublicPeople contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular PublicPeople contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon162143

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.

anon56095

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".

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    • Colonel Sanders died of leukemia in 1980.
      By: joshya
      Colonel Sanders died of leukemia in 1980.