Sanders was born in Henryville, Indiana. His father died when he was six years old, and since his mother worked, he was required to cook for his family. During his teen years, Sanders worked many jobs, including firefighter, steamboat driver, insurance salesman, and he served as an Army private in Cuba.
At the age of 40, Sanders cooked chicken dishes for people who stopped at his service station in Corbin, Kentucky. Since he didn't have a restaurant, he served the diners in his living quarters in the service station. Eventually, his local popularity grew, and Sanders moved to a motel and restaurant that seated 142 people and worked as the chef. Over the next nine years, he perfected his method of cooking chicken that used the same eleven herbs and spices that are used today at KFC. Furthermore, he made use of a pressure cooker that enhanced the flavor and allowed the chicken to be cooked much faster than pan-frying. He was given the honorary title "Kentucky Colonel" in 1935 by Governor Ruby Laffoon. Unlike most people who receive this title, Sanders chose to call himself "Colonel" and to dress in a stereotypical "southern gentleman" costume as a way of self-promotion.
Sanders was forced to sell his property in order to make way for Interstate 75. Confident of the quality of his fried chicken, the Colonel devoted himself to the chicken franchising business that he started in 1952, the first franchise being setup on 3900 South State Street in South Salt Lake, Utah. He traveled across the country by car from restaurant to restaurant, cooking batches of chicken for restaurant owners and their employees. If the reaction was favorable, he entered into a handshake agreement on a deal that stipulated a payment to him of a nickel for each chicken the restaurant sold. His devoted work turned his small business, Kentucky Fried Chicken, into one of the largest fast food chains in existence. He himself became one of the most recognizable people in the world.
In 1959, Sanders moved the headquarters of his business to a new location near Shelbyville, Kentucky and in 1964, sold it to a group of investors headed by future Kentucky Governor John Y. Brown, Jr. After retiring as a cook, Sanders worked as its company spokesman for most of the rest of his life. He also offered a chance to turn around a failing Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant, to a young Dave Thomas. Working with Col. Sanders, Dave turned four ailing stores into million-dollar successes. Dave Thomas later sold his KFC franchises and opened his first Wendy's in Columbus, Ohio, in 1969. Sanders appeared in many of his company's television commercials between the 1950s and 1970s (with his and KFC's slogan "Finger-lickin' good"), and remained outspoken about the quality of the KFC product, often with a lively vocabulary. In 1975 a libel lawsuit was filed against Harland Sanders by Kentucky Fried Chicken for his comments, including calling the gravy "sludge" and the mashed potatoes "wallpaper paste". The suit was unsuccessful, and he continued to speak out when he felt the quality of the business he founded waned.
He also retained ownership of the headquarters building and soon opened a new restaurant in it. KFC's new owners owned the name Colonel Sanders as it pertained to the restaurant business, so Sanders decided to name his new restaurant "Claudia Sanders' Dinner House" after his wife. As of 2006, this restaurant is still operating and is decorated with many photographs and memorabilia from the Sanders family. (A second Claudia Sanders' Dinner House location was opened in a historic mansion in Bowling Green, Kentucky, but closed in the 1980s).
Sanders died at age 90, on December 16, 1980, of leukemia. He was buried in his characteristic white suit and black bow tie in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky, after lying in state in the rotunda of the Kentucky State Capitol. A later cartoon version of Colonel Sanders (voiced by actor Randy Quaid) has appeared in more recent KFC commercials, and he has an almost-identical impersonator, the latter to the considerable consternation of many in the Sanders family.
To this day, the Colonel's secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices remains one of the best-kept trade secrets in business. According to a profile of KFC done by the Food Network television show Unwrapped, portions of the secret spice mix are made at different locations in the United States, and the only copy of the recipe is kept in a vault in corporate headquarters. In 1985, investigative journalist William Poundstone wrote a book, Big Secrets [ISBN 0688048307], which analyzed and revealed (among other things) the secret recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken, and provided readers several methods for duplicating the product.
*From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia