Great Story About Colonel Sanders

It was on this day back in 1930 that an iconic American restaurant chain called “KFC” [Kentucky Fried Chicken] was founded by Colonel Harland Sanders in North Corbin, Kentucky. What many don’t realize is the amazing story behind its success and start. Harland David Sanders was born just a few miles east of Henryville, Indiana. His father worked an 80-acre farm, and to make extra money moonlighted as a butcher in Henryville. Sanders’ mother was a devout Christian and strict parent. Unfortunately, Sanders’ father died when he was just five years old. His mother was forced to get a job many miles away in a tomato cannery, while the young Sanders was left to look after and cook for his younger siblings. At the age of 10, young Sanders went out to earn money for the family working as a farmhand. He dropped out of school after the sixth grade and went to work on a farm full-time.

At the age 13, he took a job traveling around the Midwest painting horse carriages and helping farmers. At the age of 16, his uncle landed him a job working on the streetcar, within a few weeks he became a conductor. He said the job was boring and wanted more excitement, so he falsified his date of birth and enlisted in the United States Army, where he served in Cuba. After getting out of the military he performed many odd jobs like blacksmithing, chimney sweep, fireman, etc. He lost several jobs because of his brawling and so-called wild antics. By night, Sanders was studying law and obtained his degree through correspondence courses. Sanders actually practiced law in Little Rock, which he did for three years, but his legal career was ended after a courtroom brawl with his own client. Sanders then got a job selling life insurance for the Prudential Life Insurance Company. He was eventually fired for insubordination. He then moved to Louisville and got a sales job with Mutual Benefit Life. A few months later he started a small ferry boat company, which operated a boat on the Ohio River between Jeffersonville and Louisville. The ferry boat business was an instant success, but Sanders again got bored, but was able to sell the business for several thousand dollars. He used that money and started a company manufacturing acetylene lamps. That company failed, as shortly after opening a company named Delco introduced something called an electric lamp.

Sanders was again broke, so he moved to Kentucky in 1924 for a fresh start and began working as a salesman for the Michelin Tire Company. By chance, he met the general manager of Standard Oil of Kentucky, who asked him to run a service station in Nicholasville. Unfortunately, by 1930 the service station was closed as a result of the Great Depression. Later that same year, Sanders had talked the Shell Oil Company into letting him run a service station in North Corbin, Kentucky, rent-free, in return for paying the company a percentage of sales. The service station was doing very little business so Sanders decided to get creative, and began to serve chicken dishes and other meals such as country ham and steaks that his mother had taught him how to make as a kid. He made some slight adjustment to the families “Secret Recipe” for frying chicken, the biggest being the use of a pressure fryer that cooked the chicken faster than pan frying. The food became a huge hit and start to attract customers from many miles away.

A local competitor got heated about losing his customers and a shootout took place. The owner of the competing station actually killed a Shell employee who was with Sanders, he was then convicted of murder, which essentially eliminated Sanders’s nearby competition. Sanders was commissioned as a Kentucky Colonel in 1935 by Kentucky Governor Ruby Laffoon. His local popularity started to grow, and, in 1939, food critic Duncan Hines visited Sanders’s service station restaurant and included it in Adventures in Good Eating, his guide to restaurants throughout the US. 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 the United States entered World War II in December 1941, gas was rationed, and as the tourism dried up, Sanders was forced to close his business. He went to work as a supervisor in Seattle until the latter part of 1942. It wasn’t until 1952, that Sanders came up with the idea of selling his chicken recipe and concept to other businesses. He started with an operator in South Salt Lake, Utah. In the first year of selling the product, sales more than tripled, with +75% of the increase coming from sales of fried chicken.

A sign painter by the name of Don Anderson was hired to come up with a promotion for the business. In Utah, a product hailing from Kentucky seemed unique and evoked imagery of Southern hospitality, hence Anderson coined the name “Kentucky Fried Chicken.” After seeing the success, several other business and restaurant owners franchised the concept and paid Sanders 4 cents per chicken sold. At the age of 65, and only his social security check as additional income, Sanders set out to start his own restaurant chain. Sanders obtained a patent protecting his method of pressure frying chicken in 1962, and trademarked the phrase “It’s Finger Lickin’ Good” in 1963. In 1964, then 73 years old, he sold the Kentucky Fried Chicken corporation for $2 million to a partnership of Kentucky businessmen. Sanders became a salaried brand ambassador and retained the rights to all Canadian operations. Sanders remained the company’s symbol, traveling 200,000 miles a year on the company’s behalf and filming many TV commercials and appearances.

Sanders remained active until the age of 90, after passing from battling acute leukemia. His body lay in state in the rotunda of the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort and his funeral was attended by more than 1,000 people. By the time of Sanders’ death, there were an estimated 6,000 KFC outlets in 48 countries worldwide, with +$2 billion in annual sales. Today it’s considered the world’s second largest restaurant chain (as measured by sales) after McDonald’s, and now has over¬†20,000 outlets in 118 countries.

Moral of the story, your past does not have to define your future success. In fact, your struggles, age, and failures can be stepping stones to an amazing future.

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