Kentucky Fried Chicken (or KFC) is America's largest fried chicken restaurant chain.
You might notice that their logo is the face of a bearded man in a tie. This logo is the likeness of the company's founder, "Colonel" Harland Sanders (1890-1980). A native of Henryville, Indiana (a farm town near Louisville, Kentucky), Sanders bounced around the country for much of his youth, spending time in places as diverse as Indianapolis, Alabama, and even Cuba before finding himself back in Louisville. He found his business there didn't match his skill set, so he went further east in Kentucky, at first working for the French tire company Michelin, and then when Michelin closed its American operations, he opened a Shell gas station in Corbin, Kentucky, off one of the main roads between the big industrial cities of the Midwest and major population centers in the South. Sanders found his calling here. He sold pan-fried chicken to travelers, at first in his parlor, and when business got too much for that, at his restaurant, Sanders Court and Cafe. Eventually, he was serving so much chicken that he needed a new way to cook it — and with that problem in mind, he searched for a way to prepare fried chicken quickly without sacrificing quality. He discovered the idea of pressure-frying the chicken, which worked so well his business only increased. For this innovation, Sanders was made a Kentucky Colonel.note
It seemed for a while that that would be that. However, in the 1950s the federal government drew up plans to build the Interstate Highway System, and wouldn't you know it — the new Interstate 75, to be the main north-south route through eastern Kentucky, bypassed Corbin completely, diverting the Colonel's business. At this point, the Colonel was 65, but because of the ups and downs of his career, he realized he couldn't simply retire. It was because of this that the Colonel granted a franchise to the first KFC in Utah, to massive popularity. Eventually, he was overwhelmed by his business, and sold the company to investors, although they continued to use his picture as a logo. Rapid marketing began. Sanders appeared twice on the popular panel show What's My Line?, first as a regular guest when his image was not yet famous and then again as a Mystery Guest with the panel blindfolded when his image became well-known.
Throughout the 1970s and '80s, KFC had a moderate success, though the various business owners it was passed onto had little knowledge of how to run it properly. The trouble started when Sanders' protege Dave Thomas left the company in 1968 and founded his own fast food chain, Wendy's, the next year.note Throughout all this early confusion, Sanders sold KFC to investors in 1964, who sold it to alcohol manufacturer Heublein in 1971 and then to the RJ Reynolds Company in 1982. Finally, it wound up in the hands of PepsiCo in 1986, who spun off its restaurant division (also including Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, among others) as Tricon Global Restaurants in 1997; that company later renamed itself Yum! Brands.
After he sold the company, Sanders stayed on as its mascot and spokesman until his death in 1980 and remains the company's logo. Sanders was extremely critical of what he believed to be a lowering in the quality of the food under Heublein's ownership and in particular the gravy; He said his original gravy was even better than his chicken, but it had been reduced to what he called "pure wallpaper paste." Heublein sued Sanders in 1975 for libel, but ultimately settled out of court. The company would not and could not fire him as spokesman for these remarks, considering it would be a PR fiasco. Before his death, Sanders and his wife opened up another, considerably more upscale, restaurant called The Colonel's Lady (now the Claudia Sanders Diner House) in Shelbyville, Kentucky. It is currently the only non-KFC franchise restaurant authorized to sell Sanders' original recipe fried chicken - and possibly the only one at all to still use Sanders' original recipe.
The company's primary market is chicken, whether fried, grilled, or in a sandwich. Sides are, generally speaking, outside of the famous potato wedges, a fast-food-ified form of traditional Southern side dishes: mashed potatoes, coleslaw, biscuits, macaroni and cheese, etc. They also sell soft drinks with their meals, as well as desserts. They're most famous for their "Original Recipe" chicken, supposedly seasoned with Sanders' recipe of eleven herbs and spices, though the true contents of the recipe are one of life's greatest secrets (and late in life, Sanders grumpily insisted that the herbs and spices had been abandoned by the company). People have spent decades trying to recreate or track down any source of the original recipe, but to no avail. note
While the chain was originally, officially, known as Kentucky Fried Chicken, due to most people calling it "KFC" and a desire to expand their brand, the name was changed officially in 1991 to KFC. Cue the various rumors about the name change occurring to avoid trouble with the use of one of those words; the official (and true) explanation is that they wanted to avoid the negative connotations of fried foods, but crazy people have whispered that it's because they have no franchises in Kentucky (which is demonstrably false; also, their corporate headquarters are in Louisville, to say nothing of the fact that they named a major arena in Louisville after the chain, and, yes, there's a KFC concession in the buildingnote ) or that their food doesn't actually contain chicken (which is downright bizarre—the stuff they sell is very obviously whole cuts of chicken, unlike some of the chicken offerings of other chains *cough* chicken nuggets *cough*).
Even following his death, the image of Colonel Sanders has been featured in promotions for the company. In 2015, the company launched a campaign featuring several celebrities as the Colonel including Norm Macdonald, Jim Gaffigan and even Reba McEntire (yes, we're serious). George Hamilton also took on the role of the Colonel to promote extra-crispy chcken.
It should be noted that KFC has a major international presence, and is especially popular in Japan (especially around Christmas, because of an advertising campaign of all things), to the point that a few anime make reference to Colonel Sanders, usually due to The Curse of the Colonel, a notorious Japanese sports curse triggered when rowdy fans stole a statue of the Colonel from a restaurant and threw it into a canal. Also, the following quote is probably worth mentioning here:
In 2018, most of their UK stores were forced to close for several days owing to a distribution problem. Despite KFC not being anywhere near the biggest fast food chain in that country, nevertheless it made front page news.
In September 2019, KFC released a licensed game on Steam for free; a Dating Sim titled I Love You, Colonel Sanders! Then in 2020, they made a romantic Short Film called A Recipe for Seduction. No, we're not kidding. They even released ranges of nail polish and eau de toilette (which smelled like fried chicken, natch).
This is hardly the first time KFC made raunchy media based on its mascot either, with everything from a romance novel entitled Tender Wings of Desire to the "Chickendale" dancers (strippers) both released on Mother's Day.note
And even that isn't the weirdest thing they've ever done: in December of 2020, KFC, for reasons known only to themselves and the almighty, announced they were getting into video games with their own game console, the KFC Console, a high tech, Intel Core-based gaming PC that boasts 240fps 4K visuals, 1TB of storage space, and a compartment specifically designed for storing fried chicken to keep warm via the console's natural heat and ventilation system. No, we are not kidding about this!
Not to be confused with The Kentucky Fried Movie.