When you think of fast food mascots or icons, you immediately recall images of Ronald McDonald for McDonald’s and Colonel Sanders for KFC. Sanders’s face is now a symbol of fried chicken and has been a part of the KFC brand since 1952.
Although everyone knows Colonel Sanders and his signature face, most people don’t know too much about the KFC founder himself. There were many myths surrounding his biography—that he attempted suicide, or that he tried to kidnap his own daughter—and that’s all they are: myths.
As it always turns out, the real story is much more satisfying. Sanders did have a difficult life, but there was more to it than what the myths suggest.
Struggling From The Beginning
Life wasn’t easy for Sanders from the very beginning. Born on September 9, 1890, in Henryville, Indiana as Harland Sanders, he grew up in a family of poverty. His father, Wilbert Sanders, passed away when the future Colonel was only five years old—forcing his mother to find work. Sanders was expected to care for his younger siblings; therefore, he began taking care of the home and cooking meals he would later be famous for across the globe.
When he turned 10, Sanders started working at a local farm. But then his mother remarried, and the family moved to the suburbs outside Indianapolis. Sanders’s relationship with his stepfather was strained and the family was never happy.
Always Out Of Work
One would think Sanders grew up in a life of luxury to eventually found his own restaurant, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Instead, he worked from job-to-job, working on a farm in Greenwood, Indiana, earning $10-15 a month. He also worked as a streetcar conductor, a railroad fireman, an insurance salesman, a secretary, a tire salesman, and more. If there was a job opportunity available, Sanders applied for the position.
Perhaps it’s the work ethic like this that would later enable Sanders to run his own company. But it would be years before KFC would open.
Trying Out A New Recipe
Sanders didn’t plan to open a restaurant like KFC. Instead, he was only trying to make ends meet. In 1930, Shell Oil Company offered Sanders a position to run a gas station outside Corbin, Kentucky.
Sanders began to cook and sell meals to travelers who would stop by at the station. He cooked pan-fried chicken, ham, string beans, okra, and hot biscuits. These foods would later be the staple of KFC. His popularity grew in 1939 when he developed a method of cooking chicken via a pressure cooker, cutting down on grease and preserved flavor, moisture, and texture.
Then, in 1952, Sanders franchised his secret recipe, “Kentucky Fried Chicken,” for the first time. The rest is history.
It’s Not Easy To Own A Business
Sanders proved it’s difficult to own a business. Even though KFC grew in popularity, that doesn’t mean the founder didn’t face financial miseries. He sold his company in 1964 for $2 million and became the brand’s ambassador.
After his retirement, Sanders wasn’t satisfied with the company’s frequent changes—especially to his famous gravy and fried chicken recipes. But he could no longer voice his opinion, and this hardship would affect him until his death on December 16, 1980.