The Difficult Childhood Of Colonel Sanders

The American dream is the notion that in the U.S., success is never an accident. Rather, absolutely anyone, no matter where they were born, who their parents were, or what class they were born into, can attain success through "sacrifice, risk-taking, and hard work," according to Investopedia. If anyone epitomizes the American dream, it would be Colonel Harland Sanders, the founder of the fried chicken fast food restaurant giant, Kentucky Fried Chicken, which became so iconic that it was later renamed simply "KFC" (hey, some thing are just so iconic, they don't need to be spelled out). 

At the time of his death at age 90 on December 16, 1980, Colonel Sanders was worth what would be over $10 million in today's dollars, according to Celebrity Net Worth. (It might have been far more had he not sold his interest in Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1964, via Biography.) However, his beginnings were far more humble. Born on a farm near Henryville, Indiana on September 9, 1890, the eldest of three children (including a sister and a brother), Harland David Sanders had a difficult childhood, one beset by loss, hunger, poverty, and seemingly never-ending physical labor (via a 1970 profile in The New Yorker).

Colonel Sanders' childhood was difficult

Harland David Sanders was just six when his father died, forcing his mother to take menial jobs to make ends meet and Harland to become responsible for his siblings (via The New Yorker). Food could be scarce, but Harland did his best to cook for his siblings, a skill that would come in handy later, albeit not for several decades. In the meantime, when Harland was 12, his mother remarried, to a man who didn't much like children. That sent the Sanders siblings scrambling in three different directions, and Sanders scrambling to support himself, which he did by taking on farm work in return for room and board. It kept him busy from before dawn until after dusk, resulting in his quitting school in the seventh grade. However, Sanders never quit trying to construct a better life in those years before KFC

At 15, Sanders left farm work to take a job as a streetcar conductor, and for the next 25 years after that, he kept learning — studying law via correspondence course — and working at a wide variety of jobs, from railroad fireman to insurance salesman to steamboat operator to tire salesman to service station operator. It was at a service station in Corbin, Kentucky, that Sanders, who had been cooking for his family in the back room, began to take in some extra cash serving what would soon become his signature delicious chicken to interstate travelers. From there, an empire grew.