Born in 1890, Sanders learned to cook at age seven after his father died and his mother was forced to go to work. At age ten, young Harland got his first real job, on a nearby farm, and by fifteen he was working as a streetcar conductor. At sixteen, he joined the Army and ended up serving in Cuba.
In the following decades, Sanders worked as a railroad fireman, became a lawyer and practiced law, operated a steamboat on the Ohio River, sold insurance, and, in 1930, finally settled down to run a service station in Corbin, Kentucky. Just running a service station was, of course, not enough for the energetic Sanders, and soon he was putting his cooking skills to use again, providing meals for travelers, first in his own dining room and eventually in a restaurant across the road. Over the next few years he concentrated on perfecting his special recipe for fried chicken, devising the "eleven herbs and spices" of the "secret recipe" still zealously guarded by KFC. Sanders's chicken became so popular that in 1935 he was made a Kentucky Colonel in recognition of his contribution to the state's cuisine.
In 1950, however, a new highway bypassing the town of Corbin effectively put Sanders out of business, and his sole income became his $105 per month Social Security checks. Undaunted, two years later, at age sixty-two, Sanders hit the road with a plan to franchise his fried chicken, for a nickel for each chicken sold, to restaurants across the United States. Amazingly, the plan worked, and by 1964 the Colonel's chicken was being sold in more than six hundred restaurants. At age seventy-four, Sanders sold his business for $2 million and became the official spokesman for Kentucky Fried Chicken. By 1974, he was ranked as the second-most recognized celebrity in the world. Colonel Sanders died in 1980 at the age of ninety from leukemia, but his smiling image still graces KFC's packaging.
The decision to change the name of the restaurant chain from Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC in 1991 spawned a range of bizarre rumors and urban legends, including speculation that KFC was raising vast herds of mutant Frankenchickens in secret and that the USDA had forbidden KFC to use the word chicken in reference to the creatures. The truth was simply that the corporation was planning to begin offering non-chicken menu items, and also thought it wise to downplay the word fried in an increasingly health-conscious marketplace.
Still today, the "finger lickin' good" moniker for KFC stands as one of the most well known phrases.