Colonel Sanders is probably the most recognizable icon in fast food history.
However, most people don't know too much about the man himself.
Much of what you may have heard is little more than myth, but forget the fiction: This
is the tragic real-life story of Colonel Harland Sanders.
Colonel Harland Sanders might be famous today, but he came from humble beginnings.
He was born in 1890 on a little farm in Henryville, Indiana, and sadly, his father died when he
was just five years old.
His mother was forced to take work where she could while Sanders stayed home to care for
his siblings, a responsibility that led him to begin cooking.
Sanders eventually dropped out of the sixth grade, later claiming that algebra's what
drove him off.
Over the next 28 years, he held a variety of different jobs, including a brief stint
in the U.S. Army.
He also worked as a streetcar conductor, a railroad fireman, an insurance salesman, a
secretary, a tire salesman, a ferry operator, a lawyer, and even a midwife.
In 1908, he married Josephine King, a woman with whom he had three children: Margaret,
Harland Jr., and Mildred.
They divorced in 1947 after suffering one of the greatest tragedies a parent could face:
their son died at the age of 20 of complications after a tonsillectomy.
In 1949, he married Claudia Leddington, who he would remain with until his death in 1980.
Eventually, Sanders found himself running a gas station in Corbin, Kentucky where he
began to cook and sell meals for weary travelers who stopped at the station.
His food, which included pan-fried chicken, garnered him something of a reputation in
A few years later, he took out the gas pumps and set up his first restaurant.
It was at that location, which is now a museum and tourist attraction, that Sanders had begun
to perfect the recipe for chicken, which is still a secret closely guarded by KFC.
The restaurant prospered, until the '50s, that is.
When the highway junction situated in front of his restaurant was moved, his booming business
Now miles from the highway, he auctioned off the site.
With no income, he was forced to scrape by on his savings, the proceeds of the auction,
and his Social Security check of $105 per month.
It was time for a new business tactic.
Sanders began travelling across the United States, visiting potential franchisee restaurants
and offering them his chicken recipe in return for 4 cents on every chicken sold.
It wasn't an easy life.
It was a slow, expensive, and humiliating way to pursue business partners, especially
considering he spent that time living out of his car and eating meals begged from friends.
But it worked: By 1964, he had franchised over 600 outlets and built a company worth
Sanders had built a thriving company and naturally, it attracted predators.
Brown, Jr., was a 29-year old lawyer from Kentucky who set out to convince Sanders to
sell his company.
The Colonel, at first, firmly declined the offer.
But then, Brown swore to never tamper with his recipe and insist on the highest degree
of quality control for the franchise.
Sanders, who considered KFC to be his own child, remained hesitant.
He, Brown, and another potential partner toured the country, consulting family members and
In 1964, he gave in to their offer of $2 million.
To get it, though, he had sacrificed the most important thing in his life, and no indication
exists that he was ever truly happy with the deal.
Sanders' role in the ever-growing company wasn't over, at least, not immediately.
Brown believed Sanders' face to be KFC's greatest asset and instigated a serious publicity campaign
to up his nation-wide presence.
But in 1971, Brown sold the company, and Colonel Sanders became discontented with the direction
KFC was taking.
Eventually, Sanders chose to open a new restaurant which he named Colonel Sanders' Dinner House,
but ended up in a bitter lawsuit with KFC over the copyright of his own name.
They settled in 1975 and the terms have not been disclosed.
He got in trouble with the company again in 1978, when he gave a newspaper interview where
he said that the gravy now tasted like "wallpaper paste" and the new chicken recipe was horrible.
The franchise where he gave the interview tried to sue him for libel, but since he was
talking about the whole company and not just one location, the judge threw it out.
Despite his troubled relationship with KFC, Sanders continued to work for the company
for the rest of his life.
He continued to tour the country on KFC's behalf and, for the last two decades of his
life, was never seen in public wearing anything but his iconic white suit.
In his later years, he also found religion and donated much of his wealth to charities,
such as the Salvation Army.
On December 16th 1980, Sanders died of leukemia at the age of 90.
His body was ordered to lay in state at the Kentucky State Capitol, before he was buried
in Louisville, Kentucky.
In the wake of Sanders' death, KFC's fortunes exploded.
It became one of the US's leading fast food brands, but that success came at the cost
of the destruction of the Colonel's image.
KFC's founder became little more than a marketing tool, and Sanders' family now has nothing
to do with the company whatsoever.
It's hard not to wonder what the Colonel would make of the company today.