|A Day in Indiana History - September|
Birthplace and Childhood Home of Col. Harland Sanders
South side of SR 160 & exit 16 of northbound I-65, Henryville. (Clark County, Indiana) State Road 160 intersects US 31 in downtown Henryville.
Erected 1987 by these Local Franchisees: Mr. & Mrs. Robert Bagshaw Mr. & Mrs. William Bridges Mr. & Mrs. William Bright Mr. & Mrs. Roy Burchel Mr. & Mrs. Lee Cummings Mr. & Mrs. Ralph Fordyce Mr. & Mrs. Henry Gilley Mr. & Mrs. Robert Heil Mr. & Mrs. Everitt Houchen Pauline Houchen & Joe Ann Mr. & Mrs. Charles Howser Mr. & Mrs. William Mullins Mr. & Mrs. Marvin Payne Mr. & Mrs. Raymond Popp Mr. & Mrs. Henry Rothbaur Mr. & Mrs. Bud Stotts Mr. & Mrs. Hershel Wells Mr. & Mrs. T. J. White.
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Founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken
Colonel Harland David Sanders (September 9, 1890 – December 16, 1980)Harland Sanders' life exemplifies the "rags to riches" story that is so much of the American experience. Colonel Sanders rose above poverty, failure and economic depression to eventually find success and launch the modern fast food franchise model. His resume included stints as a life insurance salesman, steam engine stoker, railway worker, secretary and entrepreneur. His fiery temper got him involved in brawls and made him the bane of early franchise holders that did not adhere to his strict standards.
His mother, Margaret Ann Dunlevy Sanders, gave birth to him in their four-room home near Henryville, Indiana. He was the eldest of four children borne by her and her husband, Wilbur David Sanders. Wilbur died suddenly from a fever when Harland was five. His mother found work in a cannery and was absent for long periods, leaving Harland to care for the younger children. During these years, Harland learned how to cook using food the children foraged while their mother was away. At age ten, two local farmers hired the boy as a farmhand. His mother eventually remarried and the family moved to Greenwood, Indiana.
Seventh Grade Dropout
In the seventh grade, Harland dropped out of school and moved to live with a farmer to do farm work. For a time he lived with an uncle in New Albany, working as a streetcar conductor. He falsified his age and joined the military in 1906. After serving as a teamster in Cuba, he received an honorary discharge and went to Alabama to serve stints as a blacksmith's helper and ash pan cleaner at a railroad. He eventually rose to become a fireman, stoking the steam engines with coal.
Lawyer, Ferry Boat Operator and Manufacturer
From Alabama Harland went to Tennessee. He worked days as a fireman and studied law at night at the La Salle Extension University. A fight with a co-worker cost him his job, so he moved on to Arkansas, married by now with two daughters. A son had died of tonsillitis. In Little Rock Arkansas, he became a lawyer until a courtroom brawl with his client ended his law career. He ended up again in Indiana, this time operating a ferry company that he established. The ferry operated between Jeffersonville and Louisville and did well. During this time, he also worked as a secretary for the Columbus, Indiana Chamber of Commerce. He resigned from that job, sold the ferry company and used the funds to found a company that made acetylene lamps. This company failed.
The Beginnings of Kentucky Fried Chicken
Sanders ended up in North Corbin, Kentucky operating a service station that he rented free in exchange for a percentage of the sales. To make extra money, he started selling fried chicken, country ham and country fried steak dinners. His chicken was a hit. His restaurant became so popular that Kentucky governor Ruby Laffoon commissioned him a Kentucky Colonel in 1935. During this time he was involved in a shoot-out in which his biggest competitor, Matt Stewart. Sanders, a Shell Oil official with Sanders, and Stewart got into an altercation over Stewart repainting some of Sander's signs. he was directing people to his station and away from Sanders. During the altercation, Stewart pulled a gun and shot the Shell Oil man, killing him. His murder conviction eliminated him as a competitor.
Perfection of the Recipe
By 1940, Sanders perfected his fried chicken recipe. He had opened a new 140-seat restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina. When the war started, the government started rationing gas for the war effort. All tourism stopped, forcing Sanders to close the restaurant.
Beginning of the Franchise Operation
In 1952, Sanders began selling franchises for his recipe. He would go to restaurants around the country and cook for the owner and employees. He often slept in his car while on these trips. If they liked the chicken, he would offer to sell them his franchise. He would claim a royalty of four cents per chicken. He sold his first franchise in 1952 to a restaurant owner in Salt Lake City, Utah. His fledgling company grew and by 1964, he sold the company to the Kentucky Fried Chicken Corporation. He received two million dollars for his company. At the time of the sale, the chain had over 600 franchises in the United States and overseas. The company went public with stock sales in 1966. Heublein Inc. acquired the company in 1971 for 250 million dollars. There were over 3500 franchises worldwide at that time.
Last Years in Louisville
Harland moved to Louisville, where he died of leukemia in 1980. His body laid in state at the state capitol in Frankfort. His grave lies in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville. At his death, there were an estimated 6000 Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises around the world. He did not do too badly for a poor farm boy from Henryville, Indiana.
This article excerpted from the author’s book:
Exploring Indiana's Historic Sites, Markers & Museums - South East Edition