The incredible true story of Colonel Sanders

Behind this remarkable success story lies one man - Harland Sanders, a bad-tempered perfectionist who spent decades tweaking his secret chicken recipe that ultimately revolutionized fast food.

Sanders first developed his love of cooking as a child. Born in Henryville, Indiana, in 1890, he was forced to care for his siblings after his father died when he was five.

With his mother away working, he sometimes looked after them for days at a time - before quitting school altogether at age 12 and leaving his mother and stepfather's home to find work.

During this time he jumped between jobs on farms, railroads, and as a cleaner before meeting Josephine King at age 19, who he soon married.

After this - sometime around the early 1920s - he spent three years practising law, though this ended when he had a brawl with a client in a courtroom.

Further ventures into ferry boat sales, lamp manufacturing and a job with Michelin Tires ended similarly before he settled in Corbin, Kentucky, in 1930 to run a service station.

It was then 40-year-old Sanders and his wife Josephine began their first foray as restaurateurs.

Located close to a highway in order to entice passing travellers, they soon opened a diner and motel next to the service station where they sold home-cooked meals.

However, the pressure cooker which would ultimately allow him to cook the chicken quickly and to order had not yet been invented, nor had he finalised the last of his 11 secret spices. 



One day in 1931, Sanders heard competing service station owner Matt Stewart was painting over some of his business signs.

Known as a hot-head, this was intolerable to Sanders - even though he had aggressively erected the signs at both ends of the town in order to direct traffic to his own business.

Racing to the location with two Shell Oil executives to support him, a confrontation ensued in which Stewart shot dead one of the executives before being shot in the shoulder by Sanders.

Stewart was later convicted of murder, but the charges against Sanders were dropped - thereby removing his main competitor in the town.

By 1940 he had developed his final combination of spices, and the newly developed pressure cooker allowed him to cook to order within eight minutes.

However, gas rationing during the war meant business was slow for his restaurant and accompanying motel, and he spent some time working in a friend's store in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

This town later emerged as the location of the top secret centre where U.S. scientists enriched the uranium later used in the atom bombs which ended the war.

Upon his return to Corbin, Kentucky in 1945, Sanders' business grew in popularity and the state governor bestowed him with the title of 'Colonel' in recognition of his services to the food industry.

However, in 1955, with Sanders now aged 65, he was forced to sell the business for fraction of its value when Interstate 75 diverted the vast majority of his customers from passing through the town.

Sanders was back to square one and was penniless aside from the small franchise payments he had arranged with friend Pete Harman, who was selling his secret chicken recipe in Salt Lake City.



Harman, who is credited with developing the red and white branding, the 'Kentucky Fried Chicken' name and pioneering the sale of takeaway orders, went on to open many outlets selling Sanders' recipe.

The two had agreed a small fee for every chicken sold using Sanders' spices - the composition of which was fiercely guarded, and produced and shipped to Harman by Sanders himself.

Without his business in Corbin to manage, Sanders set about refining his own image and pouncing on the opportunity of the newly-developing franchise concept.

He began wearing only white suits with a string tie, and grew his trademark white goatee as he travelled the country signing up restaurants with rights to use his recipe. 

In his autobiography, he wrote: 'I never liked the idea of using my photograph on things.

'I had always referred to my face as my mug. But I did have a line drawing made for use in advertising, and when I saw it on the boxes containing my food I nearly fainted.'

But this became overwhelming for the elderly businessman, who continued signing up restaurants while his second wife, Claudia Ledington-Price, stayed at home to package and send them the secret spices.

By 1964, with more than 400 franchisees - including some abroad - a now 74-year-old Sanders sold his interests in the corporation to a group of Kentucky businessmen.

Retained as a goodwill and brand ambassador, he had little control over the direction of the company and in later years often complained the gravy was 'slop'.



According to a 1970 New Yorker profile, he was fond of making surprise visits to franchisees and if their gravy was not up to his standards, unleashing a tirade of verbal abuse at the business owner.

A company executive told the paper: 'Let’s face it, the Colonel’s gravy was fantastic, but you had to be a Rhodes Scholar to cook it.'It involved too much time, it left too much room for human error, and it was too expensive.'

During the Second World War he was too old to enlist but did his part by moving to work at a friend's restaurant in Oak Ridge, a town in Tennessee where the uranium for the first atom bomb was enriched


 


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Colonel's Secret Recipe

  (11 Herbs And Spices + 1)  Finger Lickin Good Chicken

Claudia Ledington, who became Harland Sanders' second wife had a hand written note on the back of her last will and testament according to Joe Ledington. Claudia Ledington was his aunt. He worked for colonel sanders for years and says, "That is the original 11 herbs and spices that were supposed to be so secretive," he says with conviction."

The "secret" chicken recipe has flew out of the coop again.