Colonel Sanders, October 1972
|Born||Harland David Sanders
September 9, 1890
Henryville, Indiana, U.S.
|Died||December 16, 1980
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
|Cause of death||Complications from pneumonia and leukemia|
|Board member of||Kentucky Fried Chicken (founder)|
|Religion||Disciples of Christ|
|Spouse(s)||Josephine King (divorced)
|Children||Harland David Sanders, Jr.
Mildred Sanders Ruggles
|Parents||Wilbur David Sanders
Margaret Ann Sanders (née Dunlevy)
Colonel Harland David Sanders[a] (September 9, 1890 – December 16, 1980) was an American businessman, best known for founding Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), and later acting as the company's goodwill ambassador and symbol.
Sanders held a number of jobs in his early life, such as a fireman, insurance salesman and running filling stations. He began selling fried chicken from his roadside restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky, during the Great Depression. Sanders identified the potential of the restaurant franchising concept, and the first KFC franchise opened in Utah in 1952. The company's rapid expansion across the United States and overseas saw it overwhelm him however, and in 1964 he sold the company to a group of investors led by John Y. Brown, Jr. and Jack C. Massey for $2 million.
Sanders was born on September 9, 1890 in a thin-walled, four room shack on a country road 3 miles (4.8 km) east of Henryville, Indiana. He was the oldest of three children born to Wilbur David and Margaret Ann (née Dunlevy) Sanders. The family attended the Advent Christian Church. The family were of mostly Irish and English ancestry.
His father was a mild and affectionate man who tried to make a living as a farmer on the 80 acres of land that he owned, but after a fall he broke his leg and had to give up his profession. He worked as a butcher in Henryville for the next two years. One summer afternoon in 1895, he came home with a fever and died later that day. Sanders' mother obtained work in a tomato-canning factory; and the young Harland was required to look after and cook for his siblings. When he was 10 he began to work as a farmhand for local farmers Charlie Norris and Henry Monk.
Sanders' mother remarried in 1902, and the family moved to Greenwood, Indiana. Sanders argued with his stepfather, so he moved out after a year. Sanders dropped out of school when he was 13, and went to live and work on a nearby farm. He then took a job painting horse carriages in Indianapolis. When he was 14 he moved to southern Indiana to work as a farmhand for two years for Sam Wilson. In 1906, with his mother's approval, he left home to live with his uncle in New Albany, Indiana. His uncle worked for the streetcar company, and got Sanders a job as a conductor.
Sanders falsified his date of birth and enlisted in the United States Army in November 1906, completing his service commitment as a teamster in Cuba. He was honorably discharged after three months and in 1907 moved to Sheffield, Alabama, where an uncle lived. His brother Clarence had also moved there, in order to avoid his stepfather. His uncle worked for the Southern Railroad, and got Sanders a job there as a blacksmith's helper in the workshops. After two months, Sanders moved to Jasper, Alabama where he got a job cleaning out the ash pans of trains from the Northern Alabama Railroad (a division of the Southern Railroad) when they had finished their run. Sanders progressed to become a fireman while still only 16.
Sanders married Josephine King of Jasper in 1909 and started a family, but after his boss fired him for insubordination while he was on a trip, Josephine stopped writing him letters. He learned that Josephine had left him, given away all their furniture and household goods, and taken the children back to her parents' home. Josephine's brother wrote Sanders a letter saying, "She had no business marrying a no-good fellow like you who can’t hold a job." He had a son, Harland, Jr., who died young in 1932 from infected tonsils, and two daughters, Margaret Sanders and Mildred Sanders Ruggles.
In 1909 Sanders found laboring work with the Norfolk and Western Railway. He then found work as a fireman on the Illinois Central Railroad, and he and his family moved to Jackson, Tennessee. Meanwhile, Sanders studied law by correspondence at night through the La Salle Extension University. Sanders lost his job at Illinois after brawling with a work colleague. While Sanders moved to work for the Rock Island Railroad, Josephine and the children went to live with her parents. After a while, Sanders began to practice law in Little Rock for three years, and he earned enough fees for his family to move with him. His legal career ended after he got engaged in a courtroom brawl with his own client.
After that, Sanders moved back with his mother in Henryville, and went to work as a laborer on the Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1916, the family moved to Jeffersonville, where Sanders got a job selling life insurance for the Prudential Life Insurance Company. Sanders was eventually fired for insubordination. He moved to Louisville and got a salesman job with Mutual Benefit Life of New Jersey.
In 1920, Sanders established a ferry boat company, which operated a boat on the Ohio River between Jeffersonville and Louisville. He canvassed for funding, becoming a minority shareholder himself, and was appointed secretary of the company. The ferry was an instant success. In around 1922 he got a job as secretary at the Columbus, Indiana Chamber of Commerce. He admitted to not being very good at the job, and resigned after less than a year. Sanders cashed in his ferry boat company shares for $22,000 and used the money to establish a company manufacturing acetylene lamps. The venture failed after Delco introduced an electric lamp that they sold on credit.
Sanders moved to Winchester, Kentucky, to work as a salesman for the Michelin Tire Company. In 1924, Michelin closed their New Jersey plant, and Sanders lost his job. In 1924, by chance, he met the general manager of Standard Oil of Kentucky, who asked him to run a service station in Nicholasville. In 1930, the station closed as a result of the Great Depression.
In 1930, the Shell Oil Company offered Sanders a service station in Corbin, Kentucky rent free, whereby he paid them a percentage of sales. Sanders began to cook chicken dishes and other meals such as country ham and steaks for customers. Since he did not have a restaurant, he served customers in his adjacent living quarters. He was commissioned as a Kentucky Colonel in 1935 by Kentucky governor Ruby Laffoon. His local popularity grew, and in 1939 food critic Duncan Hines visited Sanders's restaurant and included it in Adventures in Good Eating, his guide to restaurants throughout the US. The entry read:
Corbin, KY. Sanders Court and Café
41 — Jct. with 25, 25 E. ½ Mi. N. of Corbin. Open all year except Xmas.
A very good place to stop en route to Cumberland Falls and the Great Smokies. Continuous 24-hour service. Sizzling steaks, fried chicken, country ham, hot biscuits. L. 50¢ to $1; D., 60¢ to $1
In July 1939 Sanders acquired a motel in Asheville, North Carolina. His Corbin restaurant and motel was destroyed in a fire in November 1939, and Sanders had it rebuilt as a motel with a 140 seat restaurant. By July 1940, Sanders had finalized his "Secret Recipe" for frying chicken in a pressure fryer that cooked the chicken faster than pan frying. As World War II broke out, gas was rationed, and as the tourists dried up, Sanders was forced to close his Asheville motel. He went to work as a restaurant supervisor in Seattle until the latter part of 1942. He later ran cafeterias for the government at an Ordinance Works in Tennessee, followed by a job as an assistant manager at a cafeteria in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He left his mistress Claudia Price as manager of the Corbin restaurant and motel. In 1942 he sold the Asheville business.
In 1947, he and Josephine divorced and Sanders married Claudia in 1949, as he had long desired. He was "re-commissioned" as a Kentucky Colonel in 1949 by his friend, Governor Lawrence Wetherby.
In 1952, Sanders franchised "Kentucky Fried Chicken" for the first time, to Pete Harman of South Salt Lake, Utah, the operator of one of that city's largest restaurants. In the first year of selling the product, restaurant sales more than tripled, with 75% of the increase coming from sales of fried chicken. For Harman, the addition of fried chicken was a way of differentiating his restaurant from competitors; in Utah, a product hailing from Kentucky was unique and evoked imagery of Southern hospitality. Don Anderson, a sign painter hired by Harman, coined the name Kentucky Fried Chicken.
At age 65, Sanders' store failed due to the then-new Interstate 75 reducing his restaurant's customer traffic. Sanders decided to begin to franchise his chicken concept in earnest, and traveled the US looking for suitable restaurants.
The franchise approach became successful; KFC was one of the first fast food chains to expand internationally, opening outlets in Canada and later in England, Mexico and Jamaica by the mid-1960s. However, the company's rapid expansion saw it overwhelm the aging Sanders. In 1964 he sold the Kentucky Fried Chicken corporation for $2 million to a partnership of Kentucky businessmen headed by John Y. Brown, Jr. The deal did not include the Canadian operations.
In 1965 Sanders moved to Mississauga, Ontario to oversee his Canadian franchises and continued to collect franchise and appearance fees both in Canada and in the U.S. Sanders bought and lived in a bungalow at 1337 Melton Drive in the Lakeview area of Mississauga from 1965 to 1980. (He was active in Ontario even as he aged. For example, his 80th birthday was held at the Inn on the Park in North York, Ontario, hosted by Jerry Lewis as a Canadian Muscular Dystrophy Association fundraiser.) In September 1970 he and his wife were baptized in the Jordan River. He also befriended Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell.
In 1973, he sued Heublein Inc.—the then parent company of Kentucky Fried Chicken—over the alleged misuse of his image in promoting products he had not helped develop. In 1975, Heublein Inc. unsuccessfully sued Sanders for libel after he publicly described their gravy as "wallpaper paste" to which "sludge" was added.
After being recommissioned as a Kentucky colonel in 1950 by Governor Lawrence Wetherby, Sanders began to dress the part, growing a goatee and wearing a black frock coat (later switching to a white suit), a string tie, and referring to himself as "Colonel". His associates went along with the title change, "jokingly at first and then in earnest", according to biographer Josh Ozersky.
He never wore anything else in public during the last 20 years of his life, using a heavy wool suit in the winter and a light cotton suit in the summer. He bleached his mustache and goatee to match his white hair.
Death and legacy
Sanders later used his stock holdings to create the Colonel Harland Sanders Trust and Colonel Harland Sanders Charitable Organization, which used the proceeds to aid charities and fund scholarships. His trusts continue to donate money to groups like the Trillium Health Care Centre; a wing of their building specializes in women's and children's care and has been named after him. The Sidney, British Columbia based foundation granted over $1,000,000 in 2007, according to its 2007 tax return.
Sanders was diagnosed with acute leukemia in June 1980. He died at the Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky of pneumonia on December 16, 1980. He had been diagnosed with acute leukemia the previous June. His body lay in state in the rotunda of the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort after a funeral service at the Southern Baptist Seminary Chapel, which was attended by more than 1,000 people. He was buried in his characteristic white suit and black western string tie in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.
By the time of his death, there were an estimated 6,000 KFC outlets in 48 different countries worldwide, with $2 billion of sales annually.
Since his death, Sanders has been portrayed by voice actors in Kentucky Fried Chicken commercials in radio and an animated version of him has been used for television commercials.
The Japanese Nippon Professional Baseball league has developed an urban legend of the "Curse of the Colonel". A statue of Colonel Sanders was thrown into a river and lost during a 1985 fan celebration, and (according to the legend) the "curse" has caused Japan's Hanshin Tigers to perform poorly since the incident.
Colonel Sanders' white suit and black clip-on bow-tie were sold at auction for $21,510 by Heritage Auctions on June 22, 2013. The suit had been given to Cincinnati resident Mike Morris by Sanders, who was close to Morris' family. The Morris family house was purchased by Col. Sanders, and Sanders lived with the family for six months. The suit was purchased by Kentucky Fried Chicken of Japan president Maseo “Charlie” Watanabe. Watanabe put on the famous suit after placing the winning bid at the auction event in Dallas, Texas.
A manuscript of a book on cooking, which Sanders apparently wrote in the mid-1960s, has been found in KFC archives. It includes some cooking recipes from Sanders as well as stories. KFC plans to try some of the recipes, and to offer the book online.
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- Josh Kegley, Daughter of Colonel Sanders dies at age 91, Lexington Herald-Leader, September 25, 2010.
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- Ozersky, Josh (2012). Colonel Sanders and the American Dream. University of Texas Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-292-74285-7.
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- KFC.co.uk | About Us | KFC History
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- "Milestones". Time. December 29, 1980. Retrieved May 19, 2008.
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- Brown, Angela K, President of KFC Japan buys Colonel Sanders' trademark white suit at auction for $21K Assosciated Press 6/22/13
- "KFC's Col. Sanders' White Suit Fetches $21,510". ABC News. June 22, 2012. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
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- Pearce, John, The Colonel (1982) ISBN 0-385-18122-1
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- Encyclopedia of Kentucky. New York, New York: Somerset Publishers. 1987. pp. 185–186. ISBN 0-403-09981-1.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Harland Sanders.|
|Wikinews has related news: Colonel Sanders statue lost in 1985 recovered from river in Japan|
- Kentucky Fried Chicken
- Harland "Colonel" Sanders at Find a Grave
- CBC Archives CBC Radio talks with Colonel Sanders about Canadian food and cooking (from 1957).
- FBI file on "Colonel" Sanders
- Sanders on What's My Line? when he was unknown nationally
- Colonel Sanders at the Internet Movie Database