Going off topic today, but I’ve wanted to do this for a while. September 18 1968, was an uneventful day during an eventful year. While the rest of America listened to Harper Valley PTA, red Testimony of Two Men, or watched Hang ‘Em High, one lucky person got to meet, and get an autograph from a man who changed the face of fast food, fried chicken, and the cooking industry, all at the same time.
Even if you’ve never eaten at KFC, you know that Col. Harland Sanders founded the company, and came up with the famous “Secret Recipe.” You might not know that he was a jack of all trades prior to KFC. He was a military man, a railroad man, an amateur lawyer, an insurance sales man, a ferryboat operator, and, by 1930, a Shell gas station attendant in Corbin, Kentucky. That Shell gas station was the best thing to ever happen to Harland Sanders, but at the time, he didn’t know it. He served food, including his chicken, country ham, and steaks in the living quarters of the service station.
Sanders’ temper was well documented, having lost no fewer than three jobs due to disagreements or brawls with people, including one in a courtroom during his law practice. During an encounter with Matt Stewart, a competitor, a shootout took place. The story goes like this, Sanders painted an advertising sign to lure more customers to his station, which enraged Smith, who painted over Sanders’ sign. Sanders and two Shell officials caught Smith in the act, and the shootout occurred. Smith was shot in the shoulder, and wound up killing one of the Shell officials. Smith was sent to prison for murder, and Sanders had the market all to himself. Around that same time, Sanders was named a “Kentucky Colonel,” and was recommissioned one in 1950. He began to call himself Colonel Sanders, and the name stuck.
During the World War 2, he was worked as a supervisor in Seattle, and later ran government cafeterias. He had already perfected his now legendary “Secret Recipe” and discovered that frying in a pressure cooker made the chicken more moist and flavorful than pan frying. After the war, he returned to his kitchen, and in 1952, franchised his chicken to Pete Harman of South Salt Lake, Utah. A sign panted named Don Anderson came up with the name “Kentucky Fried Chicken” for the new Utah restaurant. This would be a turning point, as Sanders, who had failed at most of his businesses, found the recipe for success, no pun intended…he just didn’t know it yet.
In 1956, he sold the Corbin Restaurant that he had called home for so long. Realizing he needed money, he started his quest to franchise Kentucky Fried Chicken. Initially, it was slow going, but people began to see that Kentucky Fried Chicken would work, and, by the 1960’s, over 600 locations had opened, in the US, Canada, England, and Mexico. In 1964, an aging Sanders could not handle the stress of managing the restaurants, and sold Kentucky Fried Chicken to John Brown, and Jack Massey for $2 million, over $15 million in 2016 dollars.
Sanders was the mascot of KFC, and continued to appear on packaging, and advertising. Sanders himself wore the white suit and black string tie which he would forever be associated with. Sanders was, in real life, a foul-mouthed control freak, who would visit franchises to make sure that the chicken was being prepared correctly, and would snap if he found that it wasn’t. He remained active, even after being diagnosed with acute leukemia, and was active until his death from pneumonia on December 16, 1980, at the age of 90.
On that rather uneventful day, September 18, 1968, someone met Col. Harland Sanders, and got his autograph.Torn from, appropriately enough, a chicken advertisement, this 7 inch long piece of paper was signed by Sanders, “Sincerely, Col Harland Sanders, 9/18/1964.” While the paper has aged with time, but the signature is still bold. It also looks as though there was something else written, either by Sanders, or an unknown hand, as at the top right corner, there is an underlined S. What was written, has been lost to history.
Next week, I will examine some unique items from the bottom of the sea.