Whether or not KFC's resurrection of Colonel Sanders achieves its goal of putting a sales dent in potent rivals like Chick-fil-A, the campaign is at least reminding America what a peculiar and fascinating life Harland Sanders actually led.
As part of the campaign led by Wieden + Kennedy, KFC has launched a digital version of an animatronic museum called The Hall of Colonels, where robotic simulacra of Sanders will regale you with songs and stories about his life.
It's surprisingly entertaining and educational, actually. Here are a few of our favorite gleanings:
1. He shot someone who vandalized his ad.
During his time as a Shell gas station owner in the late 1920s, Sanders got into an increasingly tense rivalry with a competitor, and the whole thing escalated into a shootout.
When Sanders posted an ad next to a highway near his Corbin, Ky., business, rival service station owner Matt Stewart painted over the sign. Sanders threatened retaliation, but Stewart vandalized the sign again, just as Sanders was meeting with two Shell representatives.
The three grabbed firearms and went down to confront Stewart, who promptly shot and killed one of the Shell reps. Sanders shot Stewart in the shoulder, ending the firefight. Stewart went to prison, and Sanders avoided jail time after his rival was determined to have instigated the fight.
2. He learned to cook after his father's early death.
At age 6, Sanders lost his father and had to learn to cook to help feed his rural Indiana family. The boy dropped out of school in the sixth grade ("because I didn't like math"). He worked odd jobs in his youth, such as being a farmhand for $2 a month, and then, as a 16-year-old in 1906, lied about his age to join the Army. Despite his enjoyment of cooking, it would be another 24 years before he would start serving food for money.
3. He worked some truly odd and occasionally terrible jobs.
Here's a sample (though admittedly we had to pull some details from other Google-able sources):
- Mule minder for the U.S. Army at age 16
- Lawyer, briefly, until he got in a courtroom brawl
- Ash pan cleaner for the Northern Alabama Railroad
- Michelin tire salesman (from which he was fired for his temper)
- "Helpful but technically unlicensed" obstetrician, delivering babies with rudimentary supplies like lard and Vaseline
- Owner of a ferry boat called the Froman M. Coots, which replaced an even more awesomely named ferry, The Old Asthma
- Founder of an acetylene lamp business, launched with his ferry boat profits. It failed due to the development of an affordable electric lamp.
4. He "didn't want to be the richest man in the cemetery."
Before his death in 1980, Sanders created the Colonel Harland Sanders Trust and Colonel Harland Sanders Charitable Organization to donate much of his wealth to charities, schools and hospitals.
Learn more for yourself from the Hall of Colonels microsite. Or if you're feeling abundantly curious, you could always check out his 1974 autobiography, Life As I Have Known It Has Been Finger Lickin' Good.