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Colonel Sanders Wasn’t a Real Colonel

Madeline Hiltz
(Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images)
(Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images)

We always thought that Colonel Harland Sanders was a cook, businessman, and military colonel. But as it turns out, Colonel Sanders wasn’t a real colonel at all. Despite feeling bamboozled, we’ll probably still continue to eat at Kentucky Fried Chicken.

He served in the military

Colonel Sanders
Founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Colonel Harland Sanders circa 1977. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images)

Despite not being a real colonel, Harland Sanders did have a brief stint in the United States Army. Harland Sanders was born on September 9, 1890, in Henryville, Indiana. In 1906, when he was 16 years old, Sanders enlisted in the United States Army. He was too young to be in the Army, but Sanders had falsified his date of birth when enlisting.

Sanders was sent to Cuba but only served in the Army for three months. He was honorably discharged in February 1907. Although he wasn’t a colonel, Harland Sanders was probably an Army private.

Colonel Sanders probably didn’t have any super exciting military stories because he was an Army private for such a short period of time. He did, however, once shoot a business rival for painting over his advertising signs.

How did he get the title ‘Colonel’?

Colonel Sanders Hula Dancing
Colonel Sanders hula dancing in 1969. (Photo Credit: Leila Grossman/ Getty Images)

When Harland Sanders was 40 years old, he made his way to Corbin, Kentucky, working at a Shell service station. It was typical that hungry motorists passing through his service station would ask Sanders for food recommendations. Sanders realized that he could provide nourishment for these hungry travelers.

Initially, Sanders didn’t have a restaurant, so hungry travelers would eat at his kitchen table with his family. Word quickly spread about Sanders’ dinners, and people began traveling far and wide to get his famous “Sunday Dinners.”

In 1935, Ruby Laffon, the governor of Kentucky, bestowed the title of Colonel to Harland Sanders “in recognition of his contributions to the state’s cuisine.”

What is a Kentucky Colonel?

Colonel Sanders with chicken
Founder of restaurant chain Kentucky Fried Chicken, Colonel Harland David Sanders cooking his fried chicken in 1969 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Bob Grannis/ Getty Images)

Despite not being a military colonel, being named a Kentucky Colonel is still a huge honor.  It is the highest title of honor bestowed on an individual by the Governor of Kentucky. It’s given in recognition of noteworthy accomplishments in the state.

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Colonel Sanders is not the only individual to be given a Kentucky Colonel title. Muhammad Ali, Princess Anne, Fred Astaire, Walt Disney, and Josh Hutcherson have all been named Kentucky Colonels.

Sanders is really the only one in the group who has used the title as a part of his name. After being bestowed the title in 1935, he was referred to primarily as “Colonel Sanders.”

Colonel Sanders technically was a colonel twice over. In 1950, after losing his original colonel certificate, Governor Lawrence Weatherby decided to re-commission Harland Sanders as a colonel.

Madeline Hiltz

Maddy Hiltz is someone who loves all things history. She received her Bachelors of Arts in history and her Master’s of Arts degree in history both from the University of Western Ontario in Canada. Her thesis examined menstrual education in Victorian England. She is passionate about Princess Diana, the Titanic, the Romanovs, and Egypt amongst other things.

In her spare time, Maddy loves playing volleyball, running, walking, and biking, although when she wants to be lazy she loves to read a good thriller. She loves spending quality time with her friends, family, and puppy Luna!