‘Beauty cannot be Caged’ | Art by Joylene Lobo
Artist: Joylene Lobo, Bondel, Mangalore
The Tragic Real-Life Story Of Colonel Sanders
Colonel Sanders is probably the most recognizable icon in the history of fast food. However, most people don’t know too much about the man himself. Much of what you may have heard is little more than a myth, but forget the fiction – this is Colonel Harland Sanders’ tragic real-life story.
Colonel Harland Sanders might be famous today, but he came from humble beginnings. He was born in 1890 on a small farm in Henryville, Indiana, and sadly, his father died when he was only five years old. His mother was forced to work where she could while Sanders stayed home to care for her siblings, a responsibility that led him to start cooking.
Sanders eventually dropped out of sixth grade and then claimed that algebra is what drove him away. For the next 28 years, he held a variety of different jobs, including a brief stint in the Army. He also worked as a streetcar driver, railroad firefighter, insurance salesman, secretary, tire salesman, ferry operator, lawyer and even midwife.
In 1908, he married Josephine King, a woman with whom he had three children: Margaret, Harland Jr., and Mildred. They divorced in 1947 after suffering one of the greatest tragedies a father could face: their son died at the age of 20 from complications after a tonsillectomy.
In 1949, he married Claudia Leddington, with whom he would remain until his death in 1980. Eventually, Sanders found himself running a service station in Corbin, Kentucky, where he began cooking and selling meals for tired travelers who stopped in the station.
His food, which included pan-fried chicken, earned him a reputation in the region. A few years later, he pulled out the gas pumps and established his first restaurant. It was there, which is now a museum and a tourist attraction, that Sanders began to refine the chicken recipe, which remains a well-kept secret by KFC.
The restaurant flourished until the 1950s, that is. When the freeway junction across from his restaurant moved, his booming business suddenly ran into trouble. Now miles from the highway, he auctioned off the site. With no income, he was forced to steal his savings, auction proceeds, and his $ 105 per month Social Security check.
It was time for a new business tactic. Sanders began traveling around the United States, visiting prospective franchised restaurants and offering them his chicken recipe in exchange for 4 cents for each chicken sold. It was not an easy life. It was a slow, expensive, and humiliating way to find business partners, especially considering that he spent that time living outside his car and eating stolen food from his friends.
But it worked: in 1964, he had a franchise of more than 600 points of sale and built a company worth millions. Sanders had built a company, and that company naturally attracted predators. John Y. Brown, Jr., was a 29-year-old Kentucky attorney who set out to convince Sanders to sell his company.
The colonel, at first, firmly rejected the offer. But then Brown vowed never to alter his recipe and insist on the highest degree of quality control for the franchise. Sanders, who considered KFC to be his own son, was still hesitant. He, Brown, and another potential partner toured the country, consulting relatives and business partners.
In 1964, he yielded to his offer of $ 2 million. However, to obtain it, he had sacrificed the most important thing in his life, and there is no indication that he was ever really happy with the deal. Sanders’ role in the constantly growing company was not over, at least not immediately. Brown believed that Sanders’ face was KFC’s greatest asset and instigated a serious ad campaign to increase its presence across the country.
But in 1971, Brown sold the company and Colonel Sanders was unhappy with the direction KFC was taking. Ultimately, Sanders decided to open a new restaurant that he called Colonel Sanders’ dinner, but ended up in a bitter lawsuit with KFC over the copyrights of his own name.
They were established in 1975 and the terms have not been disclosed. He got into trouble with the company again in 1978, when he gave a newspaper interview where he said the sauce now tasted like “wallpaper paste” and that the new chicken recipe was horrible.
The franchise where he gave the interview tried to sue him for defamation, but since he was talking about the entire company and not just one place, the judge threw it out. Despite his troubled relationship with KFC, Sanders continued to work for the company for the rest of his life. He continued to tour the country on behalf of KFC, and for the past two decades of his life, he was never seen in public wearing anything other than his iconic white suit.
In his later years, he also found religion and donated much of his wealth to charities, such as the Salvation Army. On December 16, 1980, Sanders died of leukemia at the age of 90. His body was ordered to remain in the state at the Kentucky State Capitol, before being buried in Louisville, Kentucky.
Following Sanders’ death, KFC’s fortune exploded. It became one of the leading fast food brands in the United States, but that success came at the cost of destroying the Colonel’s image. The KFC founder became little more than a marketing tool, and the Sanders family now has nothing to do with the company. It’s hard not to wonder what the Company Colonel would think today.
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