Skip to main content
Colonel Harland Sanders
John Olson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Colonel Harland Sanders

Biography
(1890–1980)
  • Publish date:
Colonel Sanders is best known for creating a fried chicken recipe that would launch the world's largest fast-food chicken chain, Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Who Was Colonel Harland Sanders?

At the age of 40, Harland Sanders was running a popular Kentucky service station that also served food—so popular, in fact, that the governor of Kentucky designated him a Kentucky colonel. Eventually, Sanders focused on franchising his fried chicken business around the country, collecting a payment for each chicken sold. The company went on to become the world's largest fast-food chicken chain, Kentucky Fried Chicken. Sanders died in Louisville, Kentucky, on December 16, 1980.

Early Life and Career

Harland David Sanders was born on September 9, 1890, in Henryville, Indiana. After his father died when he was 6 years old, Sanders became responsible for feeding and taking care of his younger brother and sister. Beginning at an early age, he held down numerous jobs, including farmer, streetcar conductor, railroad fireman and insurance salesman.

At age 40, Sanders was running a service station in Kentucky, where he would also feed hungry travelers. Sanders eventually moved his operation to a restaurant across the street and featured a fried chicken so notable that he was named a Kentucky colonel in 1935 by Governor Ruby Laffoon.

Kentucky Fried Chicken is Born

In 1952, Sanders began franchising his chicken business. His first franchise sale went to Pete Harman, who ran a restaurant in Salt Lake City where “Kentucky Fried Chicken” had the allure of a Southern regional specialty. When a new interstate reduced traffic at Sanders' own restaurant in North Carolina, he sold the location in 1955. He then started traveling across the country, cooking batches of chicken from restaurant to restaurant, striking deals that paid him a nickel for every chicken the restaurant sold. In 1964, with more than 600 franchised outlets, he sold his interest in the company for $2 million to a group of investors.

Scroll to Continue

READ NEXT

US actor Miles Teller poses during a photocall for the film "Too Old To Die Young - North of Hollywood, West of Hell" at the 72nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 18, 2019.

Miles Teller

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 02:  Ranking member U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) questions U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke as he testifies at a hearing on receiving 'the Monetary Policy Report to the Congress required under the Humphrey-Hawkins Act' at the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill on March 2, 2011 in Washington, DC. Bernanke reportedly defended the Federal Reserves monetary policy against criticism from Republicans.  (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images)

Barney Frank

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 02:  Actor  Ben Whishaw attends the 48th New York Film Festival premiere of 'The Tempest' at Alice Tully Hall on October 2, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Ben Whishaw

Ben Whishaw

Kentucky Fried Chicken went public in 1966 and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1969. More than 3,500 franchised and company-owned restaurants were in worldwide operation when Heublein Inc. acquired KFC Corporation in 1971 for $285 million. KFC became a subsidiary of R.J. Reynolds Industries, Inc. (now RJR Nabisco, Inc.), when Heublein Inc. was acquired by Reynolds in 1982. KFC was acquired in October 1986 from RJR Nabisco, Inc. by PepsiCo, Inc., for approximately $840 million.

Later Years

Sanders continued to visit the KFC restaurants around the world as an ambassador spokesman in his later years. He died on December 16, 1980, at the age of 90, in Louisville, Kentucky.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!