The History of KFC: Their Past and the Tech Building Their Future

Whether you love it or hate it, KFC is without doubt one of the most successful fast food restaurant franchises in the world.
Christopher McFadden

Kentucky Fried Chicken, or KFC for short, has grown from a backroom in a fuel station in the middle of nowhere, to become the de facto chicken fast food restaurant chain in the world. Today it enjoys a massive global presence and its food is enjoyed by millions of people every day.

But how did it start out and where is it going in the future? 


How KFC was started?

Kentucky Fried Chicken, known today as KFC, was incorporated in 1955 by Col. Harland Sanders in Corbin, Kentucky. But its story began a little before then.

Sanders was born in 1890 and at the age of 12, he left home to work as a farmhand after a troubled childhood. At the age of 15, he left the farm to work a series of jobs with mixed success.

His various jobs included trying his hand as a painter, railroad fireman, plowman, streetcar conductor, ferryboat operator, insurance salesman, justice of the peace, and service-station operator.

By 1929, Harland had opened his own gas station in Corbin, Kentucky. Here he cooked for his family and the occasional customer in the back room. 

Sanders, by all accounts, used to enjoy using the recipes his mother taught him to make. Pan-fried chicken, country ham, fresh vegetables, and homemade biscuits to name but a few.

It appears he was a 'dab hand' at cooking and news began to spread far and wide enabling him to open a 142-seat restaurant and motel nearby - - The Harland Sanders Court and Cafe

In 1936, Sanders was honored with the title of "Kentucky Colonel" by the state's governor. 

Around this time, Sanders also managed to perfect a method of speeding up the cooking process for his chicken - pressure cooking. This reduced the time needed to cook his chicken while retaining, in his view, the quality of the food. 

Things were going well and he even received an endorsement in Duncan Hine's Adventures in Good Eating in 1939. 

By the early-1940s, Sanders had managed to perfect his "Original recipe" of 11 herbs and spices. This was never revealed to the public but was, as he famously admitted, made of ingredients that "stand on everybody's shelf". 

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But the advent of the Second World War and gas rationing forced him to shut shop as tourism dropped off. The motel and cafe limped on and after a brief uptick post-war, the planned construction of Interstate 75 in the 1950s that would bypass Corbin entirely threatened the future viability of his business. 

Sanders needed a new plan. 

history of KFC chain
Source: aureliefrance/iStock

Col. Sander sold up and traveled the U.S. to franchise his recipe to other restaurant owners. KFC, as we know it today, was born.

How old was Colonel Sanders when he started KFC?

This is a little tricky to answer because, as we have seen, exactly when KFC began can be debatable. But using the incorporation date, Colonol Sanders would have been 65 years old. 

In the early-1950s, Col. Sanders began to sell franchises for his recipe after he was forced to close his own restaurant and motel. His first franchisee, Peter Harman, owned a hamburger restaurant in Salt Lake City,  Utah.

Over the following four years, Sanders persuaded several other restaurant owners to add his "Kentucky Fried Chicken" to their menus. 

By this time, Sanders had retired and was living off his social security income and savings. Using some of this money he incorporated and took his recipe on the road around the U.S. 


He sold much of his business to a group of investors in 1964 and moved to Canada where he lived until his death in 1980. 

Since then KFC has conquered the world as the largest fast-food chicken operator, developer, and franchiser in the world. Today KFC is owned by Yum! Brands.

How is KFC using tech to future-proof their business?

KFC isn't a brand that has rested on its laurels throughout its history. From its early beginnings, the latest tech has been sought to keep them ahead of the game. 

Recently, KFC has announced that they are trialing plant-based "chicken" to add to their repertoire of meal options in Atlanta, Georgia. By working with Beyond Meat, a plant-based protein company, customers will be given the option on a free sample basis to seek their feedback.

They have also experimented with cryptocurrency in recent years. KFC Canada has allowed, since January of last year, customers to buy "The Bitcoin Bucket" via KFC’s website. 

KFC's success is not just about the great quality and flavor of their food. Marketing has been one of their ace cards since the early days of the 1950s. Back in 2017 in a fantastic piece of PR, KFC announced that they're launching a Chicken Sandwich into space

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Here is your first official look at the Zinger’s space vessel. Yes, we are actually building this. #SpaceSandwich

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But their embrace of technology has also been extended to the training of its staff. Tech like voice-activated devices, social media, and VR codes are helping them improve their workforce's skills. 

In China, franchises are also experimenting with facial-recognition to help create "smart restaurants". The idea is to remember a customer's previous choices and create personalized options for them when they next visit. 

Why did KFC change the name?

Back in 1991, Kentucky Fried Chicken officially rebranded as KFC. But why?

As it turns out the reason was pretty mundane, but there are many theories as to why this happened. 

One theory is that there was a problem with the company's name including the word "chicken". At the time there were claims that KFC was using "mutant" chemically engineering birds - - this was later found to be "fake news".

Other theories abounded including the company's desire to remove any reference to the term fried to prevent health-conscious patrons from being put off.

history of kfc meal
Source: pjohnson1/iStock

But the real reason is far less dramatic. They simply wanted to shorten the name.

KFC is much faster to say and customers were already using it as shorthand for their brand. However, this still hasn't stifled other rumors you can find on the net.

We'll let you decide on what the truth really is. Just remember to apply Occam's Razor; "the simplest explanation is usually the correct one".

Why did KFC change their slogan?

KFC's famous slogan "It's Finger-lickin' good" was first coined by Peter Harman, Sanders' first franchisee. This, he felt, helped differentiate him from his competitors.

Harman also introduced the now-famous "bucket meal" in the late 1950s. 

But, as you are probably aware today, this slogan was abandoned back in 2011 in favor of "So good!".

The rationale? According to a Telegraph article from the time, KFC wanted to change their marketing to become more health-conscious.

After all, fried food is not the healthiest of dietary choices.

The move was also tandem with some changes to the way they cook and package their food. Moves were made to show calorific information on their packaging and new Brazer options were added to their menu.

This enabled KFC to provide griddled, not fried, food options on their menu. These options include a burger and tortilla-style wraps that contain fewer calories, salt, and fat than KFC's standard offerings.

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