The life of Colonel Sanders, fake officer and real creator of KFC

The life of Colonel Sanders, fake officer and real creator of KFC

This is showing up all over the world. Ten times more than anyone, his face blurs. Grandpa with a pleasant smile, reproduced in pop art style on a red background. He has a smile on his face, black-rimmed glasses, and white, almost silvery hair, a mustache, and a goatee. He’s chic as hell in his starched-collared shirt, red and white apron, and perfectly knotted bow tie, which give him an almost timeless look and posture.

Behind this image of a grandfather is Harland Sanders, the founding father of what is now multinational Kentucky Fried Chicken, better known by its acronym KFC. Prior to this logo, Sanders’ face had changed on paper six times. A five-decade-long marketing facelift by major communications agencies with the sole purpose of capturing potential consumers at a glance, persuading them to try “Colonel Sanders'” secret fried chicken recipe, as he likes to call himself.

Cascading entrepreneurial failures

However, this guy from America could never have imagined that he would become the leader of the fast food immediately after the yellow and red “Clown” sign. Harland David Sanders was born in September 1890 in the USA, in Henryville, in southern Indiana, 150 kilometers from Kentucky. His father, a farmer, then a butcher, died when he was only 5 years old. While his mother is working, Harland is gradually forced to take care of his two brothers and sister. And that includes the obligation to prepare food for them. This is his first contact with food.

But despite his best efforts to be a considerate big brother, Harland is worried. When his mother comes back to life, he annoys his stepfather. He also does not do well at school and stops going there as soon as he is 12 years old. As a teenager, student Sanders is sent to live with his family members and works part-time in many professions. From farm worker to tram driver before deciding to enlist in the military. Go to Cuba! While he has not yet reached the age of majority – 16 years.

A few years later, Sanders married his first wife: Josephine King. Three children will be born from this union. Is Harland an entrepreneur at heart, or does he simply have no choice but to support his family? Anyway, he is not shy about taking risks in his career. And unfortunately, he often makes mistakes and fails!

Like when he goes into debt to buy the rights to manufacture carbide lamps. Harland Sanders opens his own factory and dreams of selling these famous portable lamps throughout the United States. But at the same time, the very rapid electrification of the United States brought to naught his dreams of wealth.

(Short) career in justice

But Sanders has a brilliant idea. He jumps on the industrialization bandwagon and becomes a railroad worker. His peculiarity: Although he is known for his flamboyant language, even for his rough and dirty vocabulary, he is obsessed with cleanliness. He is even proud that after a day’s work he comes home in overalls and impeccable white gloves. Crazy Sanders? Rather set to turn the tide.

At the same time, he attended evening law courses and ended up working in the justice of the peace court. Legend has it that he was able to secure generous financial compensation for the predominantly black victims of the railroad accident. But his legal career came to an abrupt end after an argument in open court in which he allegedly got into a fight with a client.

Once again, Harland Sanders is on borrowed time: with no job, no real preparation, he must find the energy he needs to relaunch his career. And if this man-orchestra found his salvation in the direction of the gas station? In the 1920s, he became the owner of a Standard Oil franchise in nearby Kentucky. He climbs the slope gradually, when, unfortunately, two disasters interrupted his next rise to success.

A terrible drought is hitting the farmers’ crops: no more food to sell, no more money, and therefore no more money to pay for gas! Add to that the horrendous crash of 1929, and like the stock market, Harland Sanders is on the verge of a crash.

Start in fast food

Sanders convinces the parent company to trust him with a new brainchild: a Corbin gas station, still in Kentucky. He said of this city that “alcohol sales, fights and gunfights were even more regular there than cock crows.” But Sanders feels good there. It is also in this hallway of hell that the Sanders family will finally experience a certain taste and financial paradise. Because Harland Sanders has just realized that there is a sector that is unlikely to experience a crisis: restoration. He sets the table for six people in reserve. “Sanders Service Station and Café” is born.

Jackpot: Its gas station is filled literally and figuratively. The food he initially cooks himself is very popular. Beef steak with rustic ham, potatoes in sauce and biscuits, less often with chicken. Too long to cook for your hungry travelers! But soon Harland Sanders will find a solution to this problem. We are in the late 1930s, and the industrialist he always dreamed of becoming is discovering a revolutionary machine.

This machine is nothing more than a pressure cooker that allows you to cook vegetables in record time. Here is the solution to his problem! Where Harland Sanders used to take 30 minutes, now it only takes 8 minutes to cook the chicken. But he wants to go even further. He dreams of inventing a condiment that will hook anyone who tries it for the first time.

Birth of Kentucky Fried Chicken

He develops a recipe consisting of 11 herbs and spices, which he intends to keep secret to make it his signature. However, its creator will have to wait. World War II had just broken out. And nothing will be the same as before. Neither the world nor his life. After 39 years of marriage, Sanders separates from his first wife to marry one of his employees: Claudia. At the dawn of his 60th birthday, a former dunce, a former soldier sent to Cuba, is promoted to a Kentucky colonel in recognition of his cuisine!

Colonel Sanders is born. He has gray hair and has lost enough time! He then placed himself at the service of his company. He grooms his appearance, wears frock coats, works on his speech with one goal in mind: to sell his secret recipe! With difficulty, he manages to convince several future franchisees. Birth of the Kentucky Fried Chicken Company. So the boss gets four cents for every chicken sold. But with Harland, not everything is so smooth.

The new highway is supposed to draw travelers away from their restaurant. In order not to go broke, he resells it. With just $105 in Social Security and the income of his rare franchisees, at age 65, Colonel Sanders has to reinvent himself. The old man will then travel across the continent with casseroles, sauces, and, of course, chicken. For several months, he tirelessly goes from restaurant to restaurant and prepares his own recipe to convince the directors to enter the KFC wallet. And finally it works! The sauce is taking, and the franchisees are multiplying.

But enticed by the company’s profits, the entrepreneurs bought it for $2 million. Harland Sanders remains a spokesperson for the company and travels the world to promote it, sometimes reluctantly. When he died in 1980, he felt that the quality of the products had dropped significantly. On the other hand, the secret of his sauce and his greedy face on the brand logo are still popular.


  • Harland Sanders (translated by Laurent Bro) Legendary ColonelBrossard, 1981
  • John Ed Pierce The Colonel: A fascinating biography of the dynamic founder of a fast food empire.Doubleday & Co., 1982