Colonel Harland Sanders was more than just the face of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). Sanders was an actual person, an American businessman, and the founder of the international fast-food chain we all know and love. But did you ever wonder how he became a colonel?
Colonel Sanders was not a real Colonel. He received the honorary title of “Kentucky Colonel” at the age of 44 in recognition of his contributions to the state. This was 17 years before he founded KFC.
Who is Colonel Sanders?
Colonel Harland David Sanders was born on September 9, 1890, in Henryville, Indiana. He was the oldest of Wilbur David and Margaret Ann’s three children. Their family attended the Advent Christian Church and lived humbly on their 80-acre farm. His father worked on the farm until he broke his leg from a fall; he worked as a butcher in town.
When Sanders’ father passed, his mother went to work in a tomato cannery. Sander was left to look after his siblings and take care of the household chores. At the very young age of seven, Sanders was very skilled in the kitchen. He was good at making bread and dishes with vegetables, and just started working on meat. When their mother was at work, he and his siblings would forage for food.
By the time he reached 10, Sanders was already working as a farmhand. His mother remarried in 1899 but was widowed again by 1900. She remarried again by 1902. This time, the family moved to Greenwood, Indiana, with her new husband, William Broaddus. Sanders had a somewhat overwhelming relationship with his stepfather. He dropped out of seventh grade and went to live on a nearby farm, and eventually left his family to work carriage painter in Indianapolis.
Sanders enlisted in the United States Army in October 1906 but falsified his date of birth to be accepted. He completed his service commitment as a wagoner in Cube and was awarded the Cuban Pacification Medal and honorably discharged in February 1907. (Source: New York Times)
How Did Sanders Get His Title as a Colonel?
While he did serve in the US Army, Sanders was not an actual colonel. He was commissioned as an honorary Kentucky colonel by Governor Ruby Laffoon in 1935 for his contributions to the state. In 1950, he was re-commissioned as Kentucky colonel by his friend, Governor Lawrence Wetherby.
After being re-commissioned, Sanders decided to dress the part and grow out a goatee. He even started wearing a black frock coat with a string tie, which he later switched to white. He referred to himself as tie Colonel, and his associates went along with the title jokingly, and it just stuck.
Will all the success of his chicken empire, Sanders died on December 16, 1980, at the age of 90. He was diagnosed with acute leukemia months before and remained active until he was hospitalized a month before his death.
At the time of his passing, there was an estimated 6,000 KFC outlets in 48 countries worldwide, with over $6.3 billion in sales annually. (Source: New York Times)