The untold truth of KFC

KFC — formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken — is known around the globe for its famous fried chicken. Its "finger lickin' good" franchises can be found in 130 countries all over the world. With more than 21,000 locations, it's safe to say that you're probably never too far from a KFC, or it's tasty (but secret) blend of herbs and spices. But while many people can say they've tasted the chicken at KFC,and pretty much everyone can identify Colonel Harland Sanders, most people don't know that the beloved chicken chain has a colorful history behind its success. There's a lot more to this chain than crispy fried chicken and a handful of delicious sides. Here is everything you never knew about KFC.

Colonel Sanders learned to cook as a child

Colonel Sanders, the iconic founder of KFC, started cooking when he was just a little kid. After his father died when young Sanders was just 6, his mother had to take up extra work and spent a lot of time away from home. This meant he was responsible for caring for his younger siblings, and often left in charge of a lot of the family's cooking. By the time he was 7 years old, "he was excelling in bread and vegetables and coming along nicely in meat." Little did he know that this skill would one day make him a fortune.  

Math made him drop out of school

Sanders had very little formal education. When his mother remarried, he was forced out of the house as his stepfather did not want children around. The then-12-year-old began working on a farm, making monthly wages plus room and board. At first, he balanced the work with school, but gave up on getting an education in seventh grade.

"When I started to class that fall, they had algebra in our arithmetic," said Sanders. "Well, I couldn't conceive any part of it. The only thing I got out of it was that x equaled the unknown quantity. And I thought, 'Oh, Lord, if we got to wrestle with this, I'll just leave—I don't care about the unknown quantity.' So my school days ended right there near Greenwood, Indiana, and algebra's what drove me off."

It started in a service station

Sanders would have many jobs before he began making chicken. Some of the jobs he worked at were as a farmhand, a streetcar conductor, a fireman, and an insurance salesman. In the early 1930s, Sanders was running a service station when he had the idea for KFC. A customer complained that there was no good food around, so Sanders decided to fall back on his cooking skills and convert the storage room in the service station into a small diner. He began selling ham, mashed potatoes, biscuits and — most importantly —fried chicken.

Sanders' cooking proved to be a hit. Over the next few decades the business would grow. By the time Sanders sold the company in 1964, there were more than 600 franchises.

KFC is a traditional Christmas meal in Japan

If you ever find yourself spending Christmas in Japan, don't be surprised when, instead of a turkey or ham dinner, you end up celebrating with KFC. Thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign in the 1970s, the franchise is popular in Japan — especially during the holidays. While Christmas is not an official holiday in the country, people still come out in droves for a fried chicken dinner on the holiday.

The tradition took off after a group of foreigners couldn't find turkey for Christmas and decided to eat chicken instead. KFC seized on the opportunity and began selling Christmas meals. Soon, "Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii" (Japanese for "Kentucky for Christmas") spread throughout the country and a Christmas tradition was born. Today, people stand in line for hours each Christmas eve for a special KFC Christmas chicken dinner, which is served with champagne and cake.

The name was changed to save money

The company was originally called Kentucky Fried Chicken, but the official name is now KFC. Despite claims that the name was changed to eliminate the word "fried," thus making it seem healthier, there was a far more practical reason behind the name change. In 1990, the Commonwealth of Kentucky trademarked their name, which meant that if KFC continued to use their original name they would be required to pay licensing fees. Unwilling to comply with this, they opted to instead change the company's name to KFC, an acronym which many people were already using.

Their Twitter account makes a nod to their secret recipe

While the KFC chicken recipe is kept under lock and key, savvy Twitter users noticed something intriguing about KFC's account. The company only follows 11 accounts, which is significant since their signature recipe consists of 11 herbs and spices. The accounts KFC follows? All five members of the Spice Girls and six men named Herb.

Mike Edgette, the person who brought this to the attention of the world, was richly rewarded by KFC. The company commissioned an oil portrait of Colonel Sanders' giving Edgette a piggyback ride. While a few other people had pointed out the joke, Edgette's tweet about it went viral so he came away with the prize. He said he planned to hang the painting in his home, over the objections of his wife, who he says thinks it's an eyesore.

Wendy's founder played a key role in KFC's early years

The KFC chicken bucket as we know it wouldn't have existed without help from Dave Thomas. He was a key employee in KFC's early years and came up with the idea for the iconic red and white striped chicken bucket, the streamlined menu, and the rotating chicken bucket signage. He also encouraged Sanders to appear in commercials and become the face of the brand — advice he later took himself. Thomas would later sell his KFC franchises back to Sanders and use the money to start another well known franchise, Wendy's.

There's an FBI file on Colonel Sanders

There's an FBI file on the KFC founder that, while accessible to the public, has entire sections blacked out. The file includes background info on Sanders as well as copies of letters he sent to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. The file is 15 pages long and a note at the beginning makes it clear that Sanders has never been the subject of an FBI investigation, which makes the blacked out sections even more intriguing.

The truth is probably less exciting than many would like. Sanders was a fan of Hoover, and had written letters of support despite Hoover's many detractors — even inviting Hoover to help Sanders celebrate his 80th birthday. In all likelihood, those letters and the invitation are the reason for the file — nothing scandalous here, people. 

Colonel Sanders hated what the restaurant became after he sold it

Sanders made millions from selling KFC, but it didn't take long for him to regret his decision to sell. After visiting a franchise in New York City, Sanders said it was "the worst fried chicken I've ever seen." The gravy was similarly terrible, with Sanders calling it "nothing more than wallpaper paste."

Even after selling the company, Sanders remained the face of the brand and so he took how the business was run personally. He claimed that people recognized him wherever he went and even stopped him to complain about KFC's food.

There's a KFC video game

Forget what your parents told you about not playing with your food. In 2015, KFC released an 8-bit-style game called "Colonel Quest." The game is based on a fictionalized version of Colonel Sanders' life and, according to Gamespot, is "ridiculous." Highlights of the game include "escaping a classroom, bouncing flying babies off a trampoline, and shooting your way out of a gas station gunfight."

In 2017, they released another game — this one in a virtual reality style meant to train the cooks for their restaurants. In "The Hard Way," users are trapped in a lodge where the voice of Colonel Sanders directs them on how to make the perfect chicken. Sounds like fun — except they can't leave until they get it right. Nothing like welcoming new recruits to the company with a little VR kidnapping, right?

Colonel Sanders has been turned into a DC comic

If video games aren't your style, you could always check out the Colonel Sanders comic books. DC Entertainment turned the KFC founder into a comic book superhero who teams up with the Justice League to fight crime.

"It's been an honor, a privilege, and just plain FUN working on the last two KFC comics," said writer Tony Bedard. "I'm super-excited the story is a trilogy now, with the Colonel planet-hopping across the DC Universe. As a former GREEN LANTERN writer, it's great to revisit Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps. I've written many comics over the years, but the response to teaming up the Colonel with DC Super Heroes has been a phenomenon all its own."