Kentucky Fried Chicken’s Humble Beginnings

by Candace RichComment — Updated August 3, 2023
Col Sanders Colonel Sanders was always experimenting with food at his restaurant, Sanders Court & Cafe, in Corbin, Ky., in those early days of the 1930s.

He kept adding this and that to the flour for frying chicken and came out with a pretty good-tasting product. But it was sloooow. Customers still had to wait 30 minutes for it while he fried it up in an iron skillet. Most other restaurants serving what they called “Southern” fried chicken fried it in deep fat. That was quicker, but the taste wasn’t the same.

Then the Colonel went to a demonstration of a “new-fangled gizmo” called a pressure cooker sometime in the late 1930s. During the demonstration, green beans turned out tasty and done just right in only a few minutes. This set his mind to thinking. He wondered how it might work on chicken.

He bought one of the pressure cookers and made a few adjustments. After a lot of experimenting with cooking time, pressure, shortening temperature and level, Eureka! He’d found a way to fry chicken quickly, under pressure, and come out with the best chicken he’d ever tasted.

In the early 1950s a new interstate highway was planned to bypass the town of Corbin. Seeing an end to his business, the Colonel auctioned off his operations. After paying his bills, he was reduced to living on his $105 Social Security checks.

Confident of the quality of his fried chicken, the Colonel devoted himself to the chicken franchising business that he started in 1952. He traveled across the country by car from restaurant to restaurant, cooking batches of chicken for restaurant owners and their employees. If the reaction was favorable, he entered into a handshake agreement on a deal that stipulated a payment to him of a nickel for each chicken the restaurant sold.

By 1964, Colonel Sanders had more than 600 franchised outlets for his chicken in the United States and Canada. That year, he sold his interest in the U.S. company for $2 million to a group of investors including John Y. Brown Jr., who later was governor of Kentucky from 1980 to 1984.

For years, Colonel Harland Sanders carried the secret formula for his Kentucky Fried Chicken in his head and the spice mixture in his car. Today, the recipe is locked away in a safe in Louisville, Ky. Only a handful of people know that multi-million dollar recipe (and they’ve signed strict confidentiality contracts).

Today, security precautions protecting the recipe would make even James Bond proud.

When 90 year old Colonel Sanders died of leukemia in 1980 — still possessing the arteries of a much younger man — his body lay in state in the Kentucky capitol rotunda.

Amended from articles found at

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