Colonel Sanders—born Harland David Sanders on September 9th, 1890, in Henryville, Indiana—was a successful American businessman, who gained worldwide fame for establishing the popular fast food chain known as Kentucky Fried Chicken (or KFC, for us fried chicken fans), a franchise now present in almost every country across the globe. Over the course of his long, eventful life (he made it to 90 years old), the Colonel held numerous and diverse jobs, making him one of the best-known entrepreneurs in the United States.
The Colonel discovered his love of food and cooking at a young age. Having been born the oldest of three children, he began to help out by cooking and taking care of his siblings after his father passed away and his mother became the sole provider for the family. He then dropped out of school in the seventh grade at the age of 12 (something very common back in those days) so he could work on a farm and help sustain his family too. He would later get a job painting horse carriages in his home state.
Over the course of the following decades, beginning in 1906, the Colonel ventured into different professions and moved around states quite a lot. Thanks to his uncle, he got a job at 16 as a conductor for a streetcar company. Later, he lied about his age to join the army as a wagoner and served until he was honorably discharged a year later (him being called the Colonel has actually nothing to do with his stint in the army though!)
He then moved to Alabama, where he would bounce around the railway industry, holding various jobs at different railway companies. It was during this time that he met the woman who would become his first wife, Josephine King, whom he married in 1909 and fathered three children with. He also studied law during this time, which led to a short-lived career as a lawyer. After this, he tried his hand at several business ventures throughout the years, but they always ended up failing for one reason or another.
It wasn’t until the 1930s, when he was offered the position to run a service station, that his big break came—an opportunity that would serve as the stepping stone for the creation of his future fried chicken empire. While working at the service station, he also started serving food to customers. From there on, he never turned his back on the food industry and continued working in this venue until he perfected his recipe for fried chicken (even going as far as patenting it) and began to expand, his first restaurant located in Utah. As he expanded, his popularity rose to unprecedented numbers, and even received the honorary title of “Kentucky Colonel” by that state’s governor.
During the later years of his career, he managed to expand his franchise across the U.S. and eventually to other countries such as Canada and the U.K. Once his empire had grown too large for him to run, he sold it in 1964 and stayed on as a brand ambassador, eventually becoming its symbol. The Colonel—a force of nature and an entrepreneur by spirit—continued working and serving as an advisor within the empire he had helped to create until his death on December 16th, 1980. To this day, we can see a caricature of his face in every KFC franchise around the world.