September, 2012. Corbin, Kentucky. “Finger Licken’ Good”

Posted on October 1, 2012


Corbin, Kentucky is just your average little mountain town, without much going for it other than the fact it is the hometown of Colonel Harlan Sanders and the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Sanders’ story is typical Horatio Alger stuff. Born in 1890, his chicken empire began in 1930 when he opened a gas station in downtown Corbin. When he wasn’t pumping gas he cooked and sold fried chicken and other southern favorites, serving customers in his adjacent home.

By 1935 he was making more money frying chicken than pumping gas, so he sold the gas station and bought a motel and café where he perfected his “secret recipe” of pressure-frying chicken.

Always the promoter, he built an exact duplicate of one of his motel rooms inside the café, making the bathroom the café’s ladies room. He figured one trip to the ladies room would help any woman traveler easily see why staying at Sanders’ Motor Court would be a good choice for her family.

He knew his business was doomed when Highway 30 bypassed downtown Corbin in the mid-1950’s, so he came up with a new idea. At age 65, using $105 from his first Social Security check, he began franchising his seasonings and “special recipe” to other restaurants.

The franchise idea was such a success that ten years later a group of Kentucky businessmen bought the Kentucky Fried Chicken Company for two million dollars, and as they say, the rest is history

Through it all, it was the Colonel himself, in his white suit and black string tie that symbolized the KFC brand. And, if you’ve bought any lately you’ll know his Southern gentleman countenance still adorns chicken buckets today.

I always wondered about his get-up, the white suit and string tie and all, but especially about the “colonel” part.  Had he served in the military?  Or was the title just a gimmick to hopefully make you connect KFC with good old plantation-style Southern cooking?

As I suspected, it was the latter. However, Harlan Sanders actually WAS a colonel – a Kentucky Colonel.

The title Kentucky Colonel originated in 1813.  When the Kentucky Militia returned from a highly successful campaign during the War of 1812, the governor asked one of his officers to remain in the capitol and serve as an aid-de- camp, giving him the rank and grade of Colonel.

Early Kentucky Colonels actually had military backgrounds, but as times changed over the years the title became more and more an honorary one, handed out by the governor in return for favors, services or what have you. Colonels performed ceremonial and symbolic roles at state events and social functions, appearing in elaborate fraternal organization-type uniforms.

In the late 1920’s, a group of Colonels started talking about forming a “society” that would function as a non-political brotherhood for the promotion and advancement of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. In May of 1931, the first meeting of what would eventually become the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels was held in Frankfort, Kentucky.

The Order is still active today – and now includes women as well as men. Charitable programs are a central part of the organization, with millions of dollars raised every year for programs benefiting residents of the Commonwealth.

Harlan Sanders was named a Kentucky Colonel in 1935, a title that is still synonymous with “Finger Licken’ Good” today.