Kentucky Fried Chicken and the Colonel

Culture | October 14, 2018

(Original Caption) Colonel Harland Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, is shown here as he celebrates his 88th birthday. (Getty Images)

Some of the best tasting fried chicken comes from the recipe of the Colonel, who is the master chef behind Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The Colonel, Harland David Sanders, who is behind the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise, was born in 1890 and, strangely he died in 1980, just a twist of the numbers. At the age of 90 years old, he was still very active up until a month before his death. He was not really a colonel – that was just a title given to him as an honorarium. Before getting into the chicken business, he had held several other jobs such as insurance salesman, filling station attendant, and a steam engine stoker among many other occupations. As a young child of ten years old, he started working as a farmhand, and by age thirteen, he dropped out of school while he was still in the seventh grade. As a school dropout, he did pretty well for himself.

First Restaurant of Colonel Sanders Fried Chicken

His first experience with a chicken restaurant was during the Great Depression when he started selling fried chicken from a roadside restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky. As a young child of five years old, he basically taught himself to cook when he was put in charge of cooking and taking care of his siblings after his father died and his mother had to go to work. When Shell Oil Company offered him a service station rent-free in exchange for a percentage, he took it and began serving and selling chicken, country ham, and steak dinners, to the customers in the nearby area. Not long afterward, he opened up an actual restaurant. At one point, he basically inadvertently eliminated his competition in a shootout over a sign that had been repainted redirecting traffic to his station. The colonel’s employee was killed by the competitor, Matt Stewart, who was then convicted of murder. In November of 1939, his restaurant and motel were destroyed by fire, which he then rebuilt as a motel with a restaurant that seated 140.

Finger-Lickin' Good

His method of frying was done in a pressure fryer, with a “secret” recipe, that has been the focus of the many commercials that have been done, over the years, of the competition trying to find out what his secret was. Once he began focusing on franchising, the Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) craze spread throughout the country, the first one being opened in Utah in 1952. Eventually, the slogan came out that became his trademark “It’s finger-lickin’ good.” After a food critic from Duncan Hines visited his restaurant, an entry was posted in his guide to restaurants that included his prices which were set at: Lunch 50 cents to $1 and dinner 60 cents to $1. That was in 1939 and also the year he obtained a motel in Asheville, North Carolina. His secret recipe for frying chicken was finalized by 1940; but, unfortunately, by the end of 1941, because of World War II, with gas rationing and no tourism, he had to close his Asheville Motel.  

Modern KFC Restaurant

The history of KFC started in 1952 and has continued right up through to his death in 1980. Even though he is no longer with us, KFC remains one of the world’s most loved restaurants. KFC had become so popular that by 1964, the colonel was overwhelmed, and at the age of 73, he sold the business to investors for $2 million with him keeping control of the operation in Canada and some of the franchise rights in a few of the states. It was in 1952 that he sold the first franchise of his “recipe” to Pete Harmon, which turned out to very profitable in the very first year, with sales tripling as a result of the fried chicken. It was 1959, after having to close his North Corbin restaurant, due to reduced customer traffic because of a new interstate, that he was left with only his savings and monthly social security check. Making a decision to promote his recipe, he started visiting restaurants, even having to sleep in his car at times, in order to cook his chicken for them as a test to determine if it was worth a franchise to them. It was not easy but it finally paid off for him. It was Don Anderson, a sign painter, who came up with the name “Kentucky Fried Chicken.” Other restaurant owners began to purchase franchises from the Colonel. Soon potential clients were visiting him instead and it became very successful with KFC becoming internationally known by the 1960s. In the latter years of his life, he was not real fond of the way the chain was conducting the business, as he would make surprise visits to some of the restaurants and was appalled at the taste of the food. He believed that they were sacrificing quality to cut costs.

Original flavored KFC Fried Chicken

Despite the Colonel’s concerns, we still enjoy the taste of KFC today. Doesn’t that chicken in the above picture just make you want to go right now to your nearest KFC and pick up a bucket of chicken? There is no other fried chicken franchise that makes it the way KFC does. It has a unique flavor that is “finger-lickin’ good” which is why so many have tried to pull the “secret” recipe out of the colonel. The colonel has left us a legacy with KFC restaurants in 48 countries around the world estimating annual sales of $5.9 million today.

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Terry Claypoole


Terry is a lover of the beach, history, politics and has a passion for social media and technology. In her spare time, you can find her at the beach (of course) enjoying the sand and sun and listening to music from the groovy era.