The Story of the Man with Goatee and White Suit in KFC Logo- Colonel Sanders

Ayan Sarkar

Delicious mouth-watering fried chicken is something which we all love to delve our fingers into. Now, how about Kentucky Fried Chicken or better known as KFC? It is a treat that we will surely not afford to miss. But let me ask something how many of you are aware of the story behind the man who made KFC the brand that it is today is none other than Harland Sanders.

Let us rewind back to the years and to the days when Kentucky Fried Chicken was invented and most importantly to the story of Harland Sanders who after facing numerous failures in life decided to make something extraordinary making one of the delicious yet favorite items liked by people all across the globe.

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KFC- The Success Story

The well-known brand KFC stands for ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ was initiated by a young entrepreneur by the name Harland Sanders. It is presently a subsidiary of Yum! Brands. The first franchise was started way back in the year 1952 in Utah. In the present day, KFC boasts of nearly 18,000 outlets in 120 countries. In fact, in the year 2011, it is said to have revenue in excess of nearly $10 billion.

Early Childhood Of Sanders

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The oldest of three children, Harland Sanders was born on September 9, 1890, to Wilbur David and Margaret Ann Sanders east of Henryville, Indiana. Sanders had a tough childhood as his family was not very rich.

His father worked part-time as a farmer on the field in Henryville while his mother was a housewife taking care of the children. One sudden day in 1895, his father died one summer afternoon of fever leaving the family in despair. His mother started working in a tomato cannery leaving Sanders to care for his siblings when he was just six years old. So at an early age, Sanders knew all sorts of household works right from cutting vegetables, cooking meats and various other household jobs.

Well, this surely contributed at lot in his future life as these factors contributed Sanders’s development as a chef. His mother remarried as simultaneously he escaped home because his stepfather would surely best him. To volunteer for the U.S. Army, Sanders falsified his birth date and joined the army at the age of 15 years. There he served full years and ended his service in Cuba. In the early years, Sanders had to work as a steam pilot, farmer as well as insurance agent. At last, he found a good regular job as a fireman in U.S. Railway Company.

His Life Taking A New Turn

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In the year 1908, with a stable income, Harland Sanders got married to Josephine King. With her, he had three children, a son named Harland, Jr. dying at a very early age and two daughters Mildred Sanders Ruggles and Margaret Sanders. He was soon fired from the job for insubordination and his wife Josephine left taking the children with her to her parent’s home. Over the years, he tried various other jobs but could not find one to work for a long time.

At the age of 40, Harland had to change a dozen of occupations. At one time, he was trying to enroll in law courses but could not finish it for various unknown reasons. Harland was in despair. Years have passed and he has very little money collected over the years. He did not have enough money to live with wealth and pleasure and he did want to change it.

Harland Sanders bought a service station, café, and motel at Corbin which was a town in Kentucky nearly 25 miles from the Tennessee border. This location was selected as it was one of the best places for people who traveled to Florida and various other locations right from northern states. Given this fact, there was a continuous flow of customers. His restaurant read,

“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.”

Sanders With His Chicken Recipe

Given the rising popularity, Colonel Sanders started serving meals to clients who were living in quarters as he did not have a restaurant. He was cooking chicken dishes and various other meals like country ham and steaks in the kitchen. His service station soon gained popularity in Kentucky and was called “Kentucky Fried Chicken of Harland Sanders”. His dishes were approved of his quality of seasoning which was prepared from 11 different spices. Sanders’ life began to change.

Sanders began to increase his income and though of new ways. Harland brought a pressure cooker at the time when these types of pans just appeared on the market. As reported, he was one of the first chefs who has first taken advantages of pressure cookers. It usually took near about 30 minutes for preparing chicken but with the pressure cookers, the time has been reduced to 9 minutes. This was an added advantage as customers did not have to wait for a long time for a meal increasing the number of orders.

Then a significant event took place in the life of Sanders in 1935 when the governor of Kentucky, Ruby Laffoon awarded him with the title of Kentucky Colonel for his services to the state. People all across the county started taking about making this dish the “national dish” of the state.

Opening Of The Fast Food Chain By Colonel Sanders

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Sanders wanted to focus on something to make his business refocus on the business from the service station to make something bigger. In 1937, he opened the motel Sanders Court & Café which can be termed as an independent fast food restaurant. But to be honest, the fast food restaurant McDonald and Sanders Court & Café certainly could not be compared. Colonel Sanders spent nearly 10-15 minutes for making an order and it certainly could not be called a functional fast food restaurant.

After the legal divorce of Harland and Josephine in the year 1947, Sanders married his secretary Claudia Ledington in 1949. Sanders was then honored with the title of Kentucky colonel. After he became a colonel, he started changing his appearance as per his title. He started wearing the white suit with a bow tie.

The Hurdles

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Time to time, he faced hurdles along with minor difficulties along with problems with suppliers. There was a case when the motel also burned down. But it was again built up quickly and it started its job well within a few months right the accident. The state government also tried to help Harland because his fried chicken was surely a showpiece in Kentucky.

If this was not enough, Sanders again faced a massive blow. In the year 1956, there was completed the construction of Interstate 75 which was bypassing Corbin. This meant that Sanders’ restaurant was not in sight of the travelers. This affected the business as the number of customers decreased dramatically. The business which was once successful rolled down. Things turned very bad as he was forced to sell the property for $75,000 for paying his debts. At the age of 66, he was almost broke just living off monthly Social Security check which amounted to $105 with some savings. Sanders decided to move to Shelbyville, Kentucky.

KFC Recipe Sold To Restaurant

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Sanders was not a man to sit down. He had obtained the patent for the procedure of his cooking chicken. He opened a restaurant by the name Claudia Sanders and started selling his recipes. But he believed that there was an opportunity for market his chicken to restaurant’s owner right across the US. So left his wife to manage the restaurant and started traveling.

Right during his travel, he was rejected many times and mocked because of his attire which was a starched white shirt and also white pants. After lots of persuasions, he sold his secret recipe “Kentucky Fried Chicken” for the first time to Pete Harman of Utah. They then launched the first “Kentucky Fried Chicken” in 1952. The sales then increased in the first year of the product raising the sales of fried chicken to 75 %.

Right in the early 1960’s, there were more than 600 franchised locations in U.S. and Canada which were selling this chicken. Various other restaurant owners took the concept and they paid Sanders an amount of $0.04 per chicken. The amount is surely not much given the bulk orders which were met, this seemed a great amount. This approach of the franchise was highly successful and KFC was one of the first fast food chains which expanded internationally opening outlets in Canada and then England then Mexico as well as Jamaica by the middle of the 1960s. Sanders trademarked the phrase “It’s Finger Lickin’ Good” in the year 1963.

Sanders started visiting different franchise and tasting the chicken recipe he had sold. In the year 1964, 73 years old Sanders sold Kentucky Fried Chicken Corporation for an amount of $2 million to the then businessmen namely John Y. Brown, Jr. and Jack C. Sanders became a brand ambassador with salary. A part of the deal was that Sanders was the official face of the company for which he was paid an amount of about 250,000 dollars a year. The net worth of Colonel Sanders was estimated right at $3.5 million.

Sanders was the company’s symbol even after selling it and traveled 200,000 miles every year on company’s behalf filming TV commercials as appearances. The company made a change was gravy which the company promoted to reduce time and cost. Sanders made surprise visit criticizing the recipe if it is was not up to the mark.

Last Years

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On December 16, 1980, Sanders died of leukemia at the age of 90. In his last years, he made public appearances and promoted the brand KFC. In fact, the KFC logo still has Sanders face in his white suit and bow tie and his goatee. The ownership of the brand has changed three times over the years. At the time of Sanders’ death, there were an estimated 6000 KFC outlets in 48 countries with $2 billion sales annually.

And as per record, KFC is the second largest restaurant chains in the world.

The Key Takeaway Here

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After years of failures and rejections and setbacks, Colonel Harland Sanders did hit it big. He was fired from multiple jobs setback by fires, Great Depression yet he chose to create one of the largest fast food chains in the world. Till date, Sanders is the central character in KFC’s branding and his face appears in the logo.

The statement that Failures are the pillar of success is best proved by Colonel Sanders himself. With numerous setbacks, he did achieve what he wished to achieve.

As Sanders have said,

“I made a resolve then that I was going to amount to something if I could. And no hours, nor amount of labor, nor the amount of money would deter me from giving the best that there was in me.”


Ayan Sarkar is the CTO of Webskitters, a renowned web development company known for serving its clientele with excellence. Being passionate about the web and mobile app development industry, he believes in inventing ground-breaking solutions for serving his clients. Sharing his views and innovative thoughts with others, he recurrently maintains his blog and believes in disseminating his technological experience and insights with others.


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