In this success story, we will share the biography of Colonel Harland Sanders and the history of KFC, an American restaurant chain he founded. Enjoy reading a life story about entrepreneurship, delicious food, trials and failures, and brilliant success.
Colonel Harland David Sanders (September 09, 1890 – December 16, 1980) was an American entrepreneur who founded the KFC restaurant chain. KFC is one of the oldest fast-food restaurant chains in the United States. It is famous for its fried chicken.
Harland David Sanders was born on September 09, 1890, on a country road three miles (4.8 km) east of Henryville, Indiana. It must be said that Sanders’s childhood was challenging. First, he was not the only child in the family; he was not very rich. He was the oldest of three children born to Wilbur David and Margaret Ann Sanders.
His father worked part-time, doing some errands for farmers in Henryville. Mother did not work, as she had to care for the children.
The problems began when Harland Sanders’s father suddenly died. In 1895, one summer afternoon, Sanders’s father returned home with a fever and died later that day. This occurred when the future founder of KFC was only six years old. His life changed dramatically. First, his mother went to work at a tomato-canning factory to somehow feed the family. Harland Sanders was required to babysit and care for his younger brother and sister at home.
This fact was the key to his life. Since these factors have contributed to the development of Sanders as the chef, all the relatives began to notice that the little boy was a natural talent in this case.
When his mother remarried, he escaped from home because his stepfather beat him. Sanders falsified his birth date and volunteered for the U.S. Army at the age of 15 years. He served a full term and ended his service in Cuba. During his early years, Sanders had to work as a steamboat pilot, insurance agent, farmer, etc. Finally, he found a regular job as a fireman in the U.S. railway company.
Life is Getting Better
In 1908, having a stable income, Harland Sanders married Josephine King. He had three children: a son, Harland, Jr., who died early, and two daughters, Mildred Sanders Ruggles and Margaret Sanders. After a while, he was fired for insubordination. His wife Josephine left him to return the children to her parents’ home. Her brother later wrote Harland a letter where he said: “She had no business marrying a no-good fellow like you who can’t hold a job.” Over the years, he tried a lot of other jobs but did not find any that he could work at for a long time.
At 40 years old, Harland had to change dozens of occupations. One time, Harland Sanders was trying to obtain an education by enrolling in law courses, but for an unknown reason, he did not finish them.
However, when Harland was already in his 40s, he had little capital accumulated over the years. For a long time, Sanders was in despair. Most of his life already passed, but he still was a man who made no difference and did not have enough money to live in pleasure and wealth. He was disappointed in life. And, of course, he wanted to change it.
Harland Sanders bought a service station, motel, and cafe at Corbin, a town in Kentucky about 25 miles from the Tennessee border. It must be noted that Harland seriously considered the location of his service station, selecting the best place for it. Along this road, people traveled to Florida and other areas from northern states, and the flow of customers was endless.
Soon, Colonel Sanders began serving meals to his clients in the living quarters because he did not have a restaurant. He cooked chicken dishes and other meals in the kitchen, such as country ham and steaks. Soon, his service station became famous throughout Kentucky. It was called “Kentucky Fried Chicken of Harland Sanders.” All customers noted the quality of its seasoning, which he prepared from 11 different spices. Life began to improve.
To increase his income, Harland bought a pressure cooker. It was a time when this type of pan just appeared on the market. He was one of the first chefs to assess the advantages of pressure cookers. Usually, it took about 30 minutes to prepare chicken, but now it has been reduced to 9 minutes. That meant that customers did not have to wait so long for a meal, and it increased the number of orders.
A significant event in Sanders’s life happened in 1935, when the governor of Kentucky, Ruby Laffoon, awarded Harland the title of Kentucky Colonel for services to the state. And indeed, they were great: in fact, people all over the county were talking about the “national dish” of the state from Colonel Harland Sanders.
At that time, Sanders realized he needed to refocus his business from the service station to something bigger. In 1937, he opened the motel Sanders Court & Cafe, an independent fast-food restaurant. However, fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s and Sanders Court & Cafe were incomparable. The reason for this is that Colonel Sanders spent about 10-15 minutes to prepare an order. So, it could not be called a fully functional fast-food restaurant.
In 1947, Harland and Josephine divorced. In 1949, Sanders finally married his secretary, Claudia Ledington. In 1949, Sanders was again honored with the title of Kentucky colonel, this time by Lieutenant Governor Lawrence Weatherby.
Being a Colonel, Harland Sanders developed his appearance, starting to wear a white suit and black bow tie. Nowadays, Harland Sanders is portrayed on the logos of KFC. This image quickly entered the hearts of ordinary Americans, who loved the small restaurant of Sanders. He had so many clients and net worth as he had never had before. He felt successful.
Of course, occasionally, there were minor technical difficulties and problems with suppliers. Once, even the building of the motel burned down. It was built up again quickly and resumed its job within a few months after the accident. In addition, the state government tried to help Harland because his fried chicken was a showplace in Kentucky.
But life dealt a blow to Sanders. In 1956, the construction of Interstate 75, bypassing Corbin, was completed. Sanders’s restaurant was out of sight from passing travelers. The number of customers decreased dramatically. The once-successful business rolled down. He was forced to sell the property for $75,000 to pay his debts. He was almost broke when he was 66, living off a monthly Social Security check of $105 and some savings. After a while, Sanders decided to move to Shelbyville, Kentucky.
KFC Secret Recipe Sold to Restaurants
Upon reflection, he concluded that he could sell his recipe to other restaurants. With nothing to lose, Sanders took his spices and pressure cooker and traveled throughout the U.S. in his 1946 Ford.
He started visiting other restaurants in America. When meeting a potential franchisee, he talked about the recipe for cooking chicken and its seasoning. It took a long time before he could find the first customer. Under the contract, Sanders received just 5 cents for each chicken he sold. Not bad, considering that the volume of orders grew steadily. In the early ’60s, Colonel Sanders had a few hundred franchisees across the U.S. restaurants.
After four years, Kentucky Fried Chicken was at the peak of glory, and the old Colonel decided to sell the corporation to a private investor, John Y. Brown, Jr. Under the deal, he received $2 million in cash and remained the official face of the company, for which he was paid about $250,000 a year. Colonel Sanders’s net worth was estimated at $3.5 million. He just had to meet with the media, customers, and general employees to lead marketing.
In 1980, at the age of 90 years, Harland Sanders died. He traveled, played golf, and ran their restaurant, Claudia Sanders’s Dinner House, with his wife in recent years. He was disappointed at KFC because he thought that in pursuing the lowest price and speed, the owners compromised the quality of chickens. However, after the death of the Colonel, the story is not over.
In 1986, it was acquired by the famous PepsiCo. In 2002, KFC was acquired by Yum! Brands. In addition to KFC, the company owns Pizza Hut and Taco Bell restaurants. David C. Novak is the current Chairman and CEO of Yum! Brands.
The more than 25,000 restaurants chain operates in more than 145 countries worldwide. Yum! Brands prefer to use the strategy of co-branding. There are many varieties of foods such as fried chicken, chicken burgers (chicken sandwiches, U.S.), wraps, French fries, soft drinks, salads, desserts, breakfast, etc.
Currently, Yum! Brands employ more than 34,000 employees, and the net income as of 2022 amounted to $1.33 billion.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading Colonel Harland Sanders’s biography and the fantastic history of KFC Company.
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