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The Vault Remembering Colonel Harlan Sanders 40 years after his passing

Colonel Harland Sanders passed away 41 years ago and is one of the most recognized figures in the world. The Vault looks at his journey and how KFC came to be.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Colonel Harland Sanders was larger than life.

His success was the American Dream, and it was made possible through imagination and determination.

Born on a farm in Henryville, Indiana, Sanders was cooking before he was seven-years-old to help his widowed mother.

"I lived on a poor Indiana farm over here and mother sewed for the neighbors back 75 years ago. There wasn't many store-bought clothes – none for boys and girls going to school, so mom made the clothes for all the boys in the neighborhood and I done the cooking for the family under her direction."

“When he reached adulthood, Sanders opened a service station on busy Highway 25 in Corbin, Kentucky.

The shop became a café where he developed that famous 11 herbs and spice combination that made his special chicken.

In the 1960s, his business was booming, but a shift in traffic patterns moved the interstate off of his highway and he moved too.

Sanders hit the road with his wife on a quest to sell that special spice combination.

"We called on the restaurant and wanted to demonstrate to him and his employees my method of frying chicken and the seasoning for it,” he explained. I thought it would be better than [what] he was serving, so I went and talked to him and I’ve been thrown out of more restaurants than any man in the United States. But finally, when one let me try it, he and his employees really liked it."

Sanders took a nickel a day from his first franchisee in Salt Lake City and the rest would go to a restaurant and that's how it worked for the 1,000 restaurants that eventually opened with the Colonel's trademark in 1964.

RELATED: Jack Harlow, KFC partner to donate $250,000 to help Kentucky tornado victims


Years later, the business grew too big for him—he was 74 and wanted to get out. He sold it to a Nashville tycoon and a Louisville lawyer for $2 million.

That lawyer was John Y. Brown Jr., who would later become governor of Kentucky.

"The Colonel is a great man and of course I had the privilege of working with him for 10 years. And a man is rarely a profit of his own town. If the people of this state really knew how brilliant this man was and what he meant to this state, I think he'd probably be better recognized," Brown said. "He's different. Anybody who wears a white suit whiskers and a bow tie is different he's a real legend."

In one of his last public appearances, Governor Brown awarded the Colonel with the distinguished service medallion and announced that a marble bust of the Colonel would be put in the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort.

The Colonel was speechless and accepted the award with tears in his eyes.

A Kentucky legend in his own right, former radio and WHAS11 TV personality Milton Metz had briefly owned a KFC franchise of his own and became friends with the Colonel.

"I always found him a one of a kind American because he was so famous. He was a living logo it was like as if the Pillsbury Dough Boy had come to life only better. I really enjoyed knowing him i think he was a unique American," he said.

Even after his financial success, the Colonel never forgot his humble beginnings.

He was quick to donate to charity—including the Salvation Army where he was on the advisory board and helped out as a bell ringer.

The Colonel was beloved in Louisville, so the city celebrated his last birthday with a memorable event on the Belvedere—fit for a Kentucky icon.

Sanders made his millions at an age when most retired and thousands of KFC restaurants would open around the world.

The success of Kentucky Fried Chicken would make the Colonel an international celebrity.

The reason the colonel gave for his success was simple.

"There's nothing better when you cook it. Like I say cook it, there's no better thing than good chicken. You think you'd get tired of it no matter how good it is. You don't. Kentucky Fried Chicken as I fix it when you got one bite, you're going for the next one you just want to taste it again you see its delectable."

Colonel Sanders was buried in his trademark white suit at Cave Hill Cemetery.

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