CuisinePosted on 19.09.2018

The Story Behind Colonel Sanders

He’s over six foot tall and weighs a healthy 200 pounds; he’s always jolly, with a pure white beard and is famous for spreading joy around the world. No, we’re not talking about Santa, it’s Colonel Sanders, the founder of KFC (duh!).

Ever wondered what the story is behind ‘finger lickin’ good’ chicken? Perhaps you’ve always wondered who that fella was on the side of the KFC bucket, as you tucked in? Or maybe, you’ve questioned why he’s called the Colonel in the first place and, most importantly, what exactly is his stance on gravy?

Well, the Colonel’s history is something that’s been playing on our mind for a while now, so we’ve done some research and it’s safe to say – he’s got quite the life story. So good that it would be a crime not to share it with you. So buckle up readers, we’re about to throw it way back.


Born Harland David Sanders on September 9, 1890, in Indiana, our KFC hero left home at just 15 to make his fortune.

Disclaimer: the fortune part didn’t happen straight away, he’d have to wait a little while longer for that dream to become a reality. In the meantime, he worked about every job under the sun including streetcar conductor, soldier, fireman, lawyer, insurance selling, steamboat operator, tyre salesman and finally a service station owner.

The service station is in many ways was the beginning of the Colonel’s fortune. To make a little extra cash, Sanders started feeding weary travelers chicken that he’d cooked for his family for lunch. People enjoyed the treat, in fact, they were raving about it. Word spread and it wasn’t long before the Colonel’s service station was renowned throughout Kentucky.

From 1930 (when he bought the pump station) to 1939 Sanders tirelessly worked on perfecting both his recipe and the technique for frying the chicken. The eureka moment came in 1939 when he realised the pressure cooker was the answer to ensuring the chicken could cook fast enough, be crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside and retain the flavour of his now famous (and super secret) blend of 11 herbs and spices.

By the 40s, the Colonel was flying high: his business was booming and, minus a small misunderstanding that resulted in a gunfight (that’s a whole other blog post tbh, but you can read more on that here), life was pretty good. Sanders probably thought he’d be set for life, the words ‘and he lived happily ever after’ ready to be stamped on his biography. But not this story! *gasps*

No, life had a few more adventures for the Colonel. In the 50s a couple of unfortunate incidents meant that his restaurant was first moved and then cut out from the highway altogether, resulting in a significant loss of customers. By ‘56 Sanders had no choice but to pack up and sell the business. He was 66 by this point. Most of his peers were retiring and the Colonel, to put it bluntly, was penniless. But he was by no means beaten. He had two things in abundance: perseverance and (most importantly tbh) his sensational spice mix and he knew that as long as he kept them both close to his heart, he would never lose.

The Birth of KFC

So what next? Sanders had another great idea: Franchises. He’d actually already started franchising his business and had a cheeky 8 on the go – each giving him 4 cents for every bit of chicken sold. All he had to do now was sign up more. And sign up more is exactly what he did. By 1960 he had 200 outlets and by ‘63 the number had gone up to 600. Not bad for a one-man show.

That’s when the investors came calling. The Colonel sold his business in 1964 for $2 million (but carried on being both its ambassador and one of the board members for many years) and the rest, as they say, is history. Thanks to their careful attention to quality, the charm of their mascot Sanders and the business acumen of the early investors, the business went from strength to strength until becoming the global household name we know and love today.

His Stance on Gravy

So that’s the story. But what about the man? Sanders was a very particular and charismatic chap.

He didn’t smoke, drink or play cards. But he did swear like a sailor. He was a devout Christian and believed firmly in the virtue of work: he never stopped working up until he passed away in 1980. But he didn’t do it for money. Money was never a huge deal for Sanders. He believed in honour and virtue. Throughout his life he never cared about increasing the profits of KFC, rather he was militant on ensuring that the quality of the chicken was always perfect. That’s what he truly cared about.

Which brings us onto gravy gate. He genuinely campaigned to ensure that all stores used his original (and time-consuming) recipe. He didn’t care if it cost them more, he truly believed people deserved only the best gravy. And we agree. He was a minor celebrity even before he became the face of KFC. He also starred in over 30 KFC commercials.

A little bit of trivia: He was named Colonel not because of any great military achievements, but because of his service to the state of Kentucky. An honorary title.

Some Words of Wisdom from the Colonel:

‘For me, money is not everything. As I have said, I was more interested in doing good and helping people.’

‘One has to remember that failure is a stepping stone to something better’

‘I have only ever had two rules: do all you can and do it the best you can. It’s the only way you ever get that feeling of accomplishing something.’

‘The easy way is efficacious and speedy. The hard way arduous and long. But as the clock ticks, the easy way becomes harder and the hard way becomes easier.’

If this story didn’t hit you right in the feels and make you want to order KFC honestly, we just don’t know.