Unlike Ronald McDonald, Burger King, and other characters dreamed up by marketing executives, Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken was a real person. After being forced out of his restaurant at 65 years old, he sold the rights to the secret recipe for his pressure-cooker fried chicken, which was flavored with 11 herbs and spices. A liquor-and-food conglomerate bought Sanders’ franchise, and he stayed on as a brand ambassador, sporting a white suit and traveling around in a Cadillac. Though he earned $70,000 a year, the Colonel wasn’t happy.
“I’m not too proud of having my name associated with some of my restaurants,” Sanders told The Milwaukee Journal in 1975. “Drive out of any town now and everyone is selling his piece of chicken or hamburger up and down the highway. You can’t get a decent meal anymore.”
Outraged by how his recipes were reduced to third-rate imitations, Sanders opened a restaurant fashioned after a family dining room. He then began a campaign against KFC and was reportedly paid $1 million to keep quiet. In his book Colonel Sanders and the American Dream, Josh Ozersky wrote that Sanders didn’t stop speaking out against KFC. He thinks the chain’s “original recipe” most likely isn’t the one concocted by the Colonel.