Colonel Harland Sanders
According to his 1974 autobiography, before Harland Sanders became a world-famous Colonel, he was a sixth-grade dropout, a farmhand, an army mule-tender, a locomotive fireman, a railroad worker, an aspiring lawyer, an insurance salesman, a ferryboat entrepreneur, a tire salesman, an amateur obstetrician, an (unsuccessful) political candidate, a gas station operator, a motel operator and finally, a restaurateur.
At the age of 65, a new interstate highway snatched the traffic away from his Corbin, Ky., restaurant and Sanders was left with nothing but a Social Security check and a secret recipe for fried chicken.
As it turned out, that was all he needed.
Sanders was born in Henryville, Ind., in 1890. Six years later, his father died, forcing his mother to enter the workforce to support the family. At the tender age of six, young Harland was responsible for taking care of his younger siblings and doing much of the family's cooking. A year later he was already a master of several regional dishes. Over the course of the next 30 years, Sanders held many of the jobs listed above, but throughout it all his skill as a cook remained.
In 1930, the then 40-year-old Sanders was operating a service station in Corbin, Kentucky, and it was there that he began cooking for hungry travelers who stopped in for gas. He didn't have a restaurant yet, so patrons ate from his own dining table in the station's humble living quarters. It was then that he invented what's called “home meal replacement” — selling complete meals to busy, time-strapped families. He called it, “Sunday Dinner, Seven Days a Week.”
As Sanders' fame grew, Governor Ruby Laffoon made him a Kentucky Colonel in 1935 in recognition of his contributions to the state's cuisine. Within four years, his establishment was listed in Duncan Hines' “Adventures in Good Eating.”
As more people started coming strictly for the food, he moved across the street to increase his capacity. Over the next decade, he perfected his secret blend of 11 herbs and spices and the basic cooking technique that is still used today.
In 1955, confident of the quality of his fried chicken, the Colonel devoted himself to developing his chicken franchising business. Less than 10 years later, Sanders had more than 600 KFC franchises in the U.S. and Canada, and in 1964 he sold his interest in the U.S. company for $2 million to a group of investors including John Y. Brown Jr. (who later became governor of Kentucky).
Until he was fatally stricken with leukemia in 1980 at the age of 90, the Colonel traveled 250,000 miles a year visiting KFC restaurants around the world. His likeness continues to appear on millions of buckets and on thousands of restaurants in more than 100 countries around the world.
Not bad for a man who started from scratch at retirement age.