Sanders held a number of jobs in his early life, such as steam engine stoker, insurance salesman and filling station operator. He began selling fried chicken from his roadside restaurant in North Corbin, Kentucky, during the Great Depression. Sanders recognized the potential of the restaurant franchising concept, and the first KFC franchise opened in Utah in 1952. The company’s rapid expansion across the United States and overseas was overwhelming for Sanders and in 1964.
One summer afternoon in 1895, his father came home with a fever and died later that day. Sanders’ mother obtained work in a tomato cannery, and the young Harland was required to look after and cook for his siblings.By the age of seven, he was reportedly skilled with bread and vegetables, and improving with meat; the children foraged for food while their mother was away for days at a time for work. When he was 10, Harland began to work as a farmhand for local farmers Charlie Norris and Henry Monk.
In 1902, Sanders’ mother remarried to William Broaddus,and the family moved to Greenwood, Indiana. Sanders had a tumultuous relationship with his stepfather. In 1903, he dropped out of seventh grade later stating that “algebra’s what drove me off”, and went to live and work on a nearby farm. At age 13, he left home by himself.He then took a job painting horse carriages in Indianapolis. When he was 14, he moved to southern Indiana to work as a farmhand for Sam Wilson for two years.
Sanders falsified his date of birth and enlisted in the United States Army in October 1906, completing his service commitment as a teamster in Cuba.He was honorably discharged in February 1907 and moved to Sheffield, Alabama, where an uncle lived.There, he met his brother Clarence who had also moved there in order to escape their stepfather. The uncle worked for the Southern Railway, and secured Sanders a job there as a blacksmith’s helper in the workshops.After two months, Sanders moved to Jasper, Alabama where he got a job cleaning out the ash pans of trains from the Northern Alabama Railroad (a division of the Southern Railway) when they had finished their run.Sanders progressed to become a fireman (steam engine stoker) at the age of 16 or 17.
In 1909, Sanders found laboring work with the Norfolk and Western Railway. While working on the railroad, he met Josephine King of Jasper, Alabama, and they were married shortly afterwards. They would go on to have a son, Harland, Jr., who died in 1932 from infected tonsils, and two daughters, Margaret Sanders and Mildred Sanders Ruggles. He then found work as a fireman on the Illinois Central Railroad, and he and his family moved to Jackson, Tennessee. By night, Sanders studied law by correspondence through the La Salle Extension University. Sanders lost his job at Illinois after brawling with a colleague. While Sanders moved to work for the Rock Island Railroad, Josephine and the children went to live with her parents. After a while, Sanders began to practice law in Little Rock, which he did for three years, earning enough in fees for his family to move with him. His legal career ended after a courtroom brawl with his own client.
After that, Sanders moved back with his mother in Henryville, and went to work as a laborer on the Pennsylvania Railroad.In 1916, the family moved to Jeffersonville, where Sanders got a job selling life insurance for the Prudential Life Insurance Company. Sanders was eventually fired for insubordination. He moved to Louisville and got a sales job with Mutual Benefit Life of New Jersey.
In 1920, Sanders established a ferry boat company, which operated a boat on the Ohio River between Jeffersonville and Louisville.He canvassed for funding, becoming a minority shareholder himself, and was appointed secretary of the company.The ferry was an instant success.Around 1922 he took a job as secretary at the Chamber of Commerce in Columbus, Indiana.He admitted to not being very good at the job, and resigned after less than a year.Sanders cashed in his ferry boat company shares for $22,000 and used the money to establish a company manufacturing acetylene lamps.The venture failed after Delco introduced an electric lamp that they sold on credit.
Sanders moved to Winchester, Kentucky, to work as a salesman for the Michelin Tire Company.He lost his job in 1924 when Michelin closed their New Jersey manufacturing plant.In 1924, by chance, he met the general manager of Standard Oil of Kentucky, who asked him to run a service station in Nicholasville.In 1930, the station closed as a result of the Great Depression.In 1930, the Shell Oil Company offered Sanders a service station in North Corbin, Kentucky, rent free, in return for paying them a percentage of sales. Sanders began to serve chicken dishes and other meals such as country ham and steaks.Initially he served the customers in his adjacent living quarters before opening a restaurant. It was during this period that Sanders was involved in a shootout with a Matt Stewart, a local competitor, over the repainting of a sign directing traffic to his station. Stewart killed a Shell official who was with Sanders and was convicted of murder, eliminating Sanders’ competition. Sanders was commissioned as a Kentucky Colonel in 1935 by Kentucky governor Ruby Laffoon.
In July 1939, Sanders acquired a motel in Asheville, North Carolina.His North Corbin restaurant and motel was destroyed in a fire in November 1939, and Sanders had it rebuilt as a motel with a 140-seat restaurant.By July 1940, Sanders had finalized his “Secret Recipe” for frying chicken in a pressure fryer that cooked the chicken faster than pan frying. As the United States entered World War II in December 1941, gas was rationed, and as the tourists dried up, Sanders was forced to close his Asheville motel. He went to work as a supervisor in Seattle until the latter part of 1942.He later ran cafeterias for the government at an ordnance works in Tennessee, followed by a job as assistant cafeteria manager in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
He left his mistress, Claudia Ledington-Price, as manager of the North Corbin restaurant and motel. In 1942, he sold the Asheville business. In 1947, he and Josephine divorced and Sanders married Claudia in 1949, as he had long desired. Sanders was “re-commissioned” as a Kentucky Colonel in 1950 by his friend, Governor Lawrence Wetherby.
In 1952, Sanders franchised “Kentucky Fried Chicken” for the first time, to Pete Harman of South Salt Lake, Utah, the operator of one of that city’s largest restaurants.In the first year of selling the product, restaurant sales more than tripled, with 75% of the increase coming from sales of fried chicken. Source: Colonel Harland Sanders
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