Why Did the Founder of KFC Sue KFC for $122 Million?

Dev Gupta Dev Gupta
Dec 7, 2022 8 min read
Why Did the Founder of KFC Sue KFC for $122 Million?

When we think of KFC, we immediately think of an old man with a moustache and a trimmed, pointed white beard wearing a white suit with a black string tie.

We are basically thinking about the founder and brand ambassador of KFC, Colonel Harland David Sanders.

Also, how can we not forget about ‘It’s Finger Lickin Good’ chicken!

Even after being the face of KFC for many years very few people know about the inspiring story of Sanders.

Do you know Sanders started working at the age of 10 and did a wide variety of jobs like blacksmith, fireman, insurance salesman, tire salesman, steamboat operator, midwife, and secretary before revolutionizing the entire fast food system?

Did you know that Sanders was rejected 1009 times for his franchise model?

Or did you know Sanders developed his secret recipe for fried chicken using a pressure cooker?

Wait! There is one more shocking news.

Sanders even sued the new owners of KFC for 122 Million Dollars.

Let's uncover the interesting story of Sanders and understand how he invented his authentic and mouth-watering fried chicken recipe.

Rough Start
Juggling Between Different Jobs
It’s Finger Licken Good
Sanders Sold His Company
Legal Battle Between Sanders and the New Owners of KFC

Rough Start

Colonel Harland David Sanders- Founder of KFC
Colonel Harland David Sanders- Founder of KFC

On September 9, 1890, Harland David Sanders was born on a farm in Henryville, Indiana.

His father, Wilbur David first worked on his 80-acre farm.

Unfortunately, he broke his leg in a fall and couldn’t do the farm work. Later on, he worked as a butcher.

His mother, Margaret Ann Dunleavy was a homemaker. Sanders was the oldest of three children born.

At the age of just 5, Sanders had to face the death of his father.

All the responsibility of earning money and taking care of the house went on the shoulders of his mother.

His mother took a job peeling tomatoes in a canning factory. For some extra money, the mother even worked at night sewing for nearby families.

Colonel Sanders with his mother at the age of 7
Colonel Sanders with his mother at the age of 7

As you can guess, the mother was away from the home most of the time due to the heavy workload.

Sanders being the oldest took care of his siblings and cooked meals for them.

During this stage of his life, he mastered the art of cooking. Little did he know that cooking skills will change his entire life.

At the age of 10, Sanders got his first job on a nearby farm.

Although he was fired from the job since he spent all the time with the animals instead of doing the actual job.

In 1902, Sanders's mother remarried a violent man named William Broaddus and the family moved to the suburbs outside of Indianapolis.

Sanders had a terrible relationship with his stepfather.

At age 12, he dropped out of seventh grade later claiming that "algebra's what drove me off" and lived and worked on a nearby farm.

Juggling Between Different Jobs

Before launching his iconic fried chicken recipe Sanders struggled a lot in his life and took a wide variety of jobs.

When Sanders turned 13 he left the house and got a job where he had to paint horse carriages.

He later quit this job and again worked as a farmhand for $15 a month until he was 15 years old.

His uncle who worked for the streetcar company helped him to get a job as a conductor.

In October 1906 when Sanders turned 16 he falsified his date of birth and joined the United States Army.

He then spent a year as a soldier in Cuba. Although after a year only he was honorably discharged.

Sanders then worked as a blacksmith, fireman, insurance salesman, tire salesman, steamboat operator, midwife, and secretary.

Yeah, any employer would hire him if we listed his experiences on a resume.

When Sanders turned 18 years of age he got married to Josephine King. They had 3 children: Margaret, Harland Jr. and Mildred.

He made the decision to work at a more respectable and stable job because he was now responsible for both his wife and children.

He began to practice law in Little Rock, which he did for 3 years.

Although his legal career ended when he had a courtroom brawl with his own client which destroyed his reputation.

He then got a job working at the railroad but, he got fired. When his wife Josephine got to know about this she was furious.

Since Sanders was changing his job again and again his wife decided to leave him. She took their 3 kids back to her parent's house.

Sanders was disheartened by this incident. He couldn't face the loss of both his job and family.

He decided to kidnap his kids and take them home when they came outside to play.

Sanders went to his wife's house and hid in the woods waiting for his kids to come outside.

By the grace of God, in the end moment, he decided to speak with his father-in-law.

After talking with his father-in-law he got back with his wife and children.

It’s Finger Licken Good

Around 1930, when Sanders was 40 years old he got a job running a gas station named 'Shell' in North Corbin, Kentucky.

Since a lot of travelers kept asking him for a good place to eat, Sanders decided to use his cooking skills.

He made meals for his customers from the back room.

He converted the storage room into a small diner and sold ham, steaks, string beans, hot biscuits, and most importantly fried chicken.

His tasty meals soon became very popular among travelers.

In 1935, the Governor of Kentucky, Ruby Laffoon awarded him the title of 'Colonel' in recognition of his contribution to the state's cuisine.

In 1939, the popularity of his food grew, even more, when food critic Duncan Hines listed Sanders's restaurant in Adventures in Good Eating, his guide to restaurants throughout the US.

In July 1939, Sanders started a motel in Asheville, North Carolina. But, it eventually got destroyed in a fire in November 1939.

Although this didn't stop Sanders. He built a 140-seat restaurant and continued selling meals.

By July 1940 (age 50), Sanders decided to change his fried chicken recipe.

Initially, the fried chicken took a lot of time to cook - around 30-35 minutes.

At that time pressure cookers were making their way to the market. Even though it was used to cook vegetables Sanders tried cooking chicken in it.

After a lot of experiments, he figured out a way to cook chicken in just 8-9 minutes.

To make the chicken more delicious Sanders made a unique seasoning blend called his 'Secret Blend of 11 Herbs and Spices'.

His fried chicken was a massive hit and the sales grew rapidly.

In 1947, Sanders divorced his wife Josephine.

In 1949, he married a woman named Claudia Leddington.

At the age of 65, Sanders decided to opt for a franchise system.

He'd let other restaurants sell his chicken and charge 4 cents for every chicken sold.

So, he put a bunch of pressure cookers and his secret recipe in his Ford 1946 and decided to travel across the United States to find potential franchisee restaurants.

He would convince the restaurant owners to cook the chicken for his employees.

If the employees liked the chicken he would cook for the customers for a few days in hopes that the restaurant owner would request his franchise model.

Sanders had to spend endless nights in the cars in search of a restaurant that would sell his chicken.

After getting rejected 1009 times he got his first successful franchise in 1952 when Pete Harmon of South Lake in Utah agreed to sell Sanders chicken.

The first franchise of KFC in South Lake, Utah
The first franchise of KFC in South Lake, Utah

Pete was the one who coined the famous KFC catchphrase ‘It's Finger Lickin Good'.

Pete's sales increased by 3 times in the first year of selling Sanders chicken.

After this huge success, many people started coming to Sanders to get franchise rights.

Sander didn't share the exact recipe with franchises. Instead, he sent the spice pre-made.

By the end of 1963, he'd franchised over 600 outlets across the US and Canada.

The above graph shows the number of KFC restaurants from the year 2016-2021 worldwide
The above graph shows the number of KFC restaurants from the year 2016-2021 worldwide 

Sanders Sold His Company

John Y. Brown Jr, a 29-year-old lawyer, and Jack C. Massey wanted to buy Sander's business.

Since Sanders treated his business like his child he declined the offer.

Although both Brown and Massey spent weeks convincing Sanders to sell his business.

In 1964, at the age of 73, Sanders sold his company for $2 million on one condition.

The condition was that John will never change the chicken recipe and maintain the highest quality of food control.

John agreed to this condition and in return, Sanders got a lifetime salary of $40,000 (later upped to $75,000), majority ownership of KFC's Canadian franchises, and remained the brand ambassador and advisor to the company.

In 1971, John sold the company to a giant food conglomerate, Heublein.

Unlike John, the new owners changed the recipe since they felt that the old recipe was expensive and hard to make.

They replaced it with a cheaper recipe that anyone could learn.

When Sanders tasted the new recipe he was furious.

He opened his own competing restaurant named after his wife - 'Claudia Sanders: The Colonel’s Lady Dinner House'.

The new owners of KFC sued Sanders for opening a new restaurant under his own name.

In retaliation, Sanders sued the new owners for misusing his name in selling products he didn't develop.

Sanders demanded 122 Million Dollars in compensation. The case got settled and Sanders received 1 Million Dollars.

He resumed his competing restaurant in the name of 'Claudia Sanders Dinner House'. This restaurant still exists even today in Shelbyville, Kentucky.

On December 16 at the age of 90, Colonel died of pneumonia in Louisville, Kentucky.


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Conclusion

If you ever feel depressed in your life think about Colonel Harland Sanders.

First, he lost his father at a young age and got tortured by his stepfather. Then he got fired from multiple jobs and ruined his legal career.

Even after creating one of the best-fried chicken recipes he was rejected 1009 times. At this stage, anyone would lose their hopes and get into depression.

But, he kept on fighting and developed one of the most popular and successful fast food companies and gifted the world a mouth-watering fried chicken which is still ruling the hearts of people even today.

FAQs

Who owns KFC now?

Yum! Brands, an American fast-food corporation is the current parent company of KFC.

How many times does Colonel Sanders fail before KFC?

Colonel Sanders failed 1009 times before finding success.

At what age did the KFC owner get success?

At the age of 62 KFC's founder got successful.

How much did Colonel Sanders got when he sold KFC?

Colonel Sanders got $2 Million when he sold KFC to a company led by a group of investors including John Y. Brown Jr. and Jack C. Massey.

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