No Kentucky Colonel: Harland Sanders (1890 September 9th)

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Colonel Harland Sanders was born on September 9, 1890, in Henryville, Indiana. At the age of 40, Sanders was running a popular Kentucky service station that also served food—so popular, in fact, that the governor of Kentucky designated him a Kentucky colonel. Eventually, Sanders focused on franchising his fried chicken business around the country, collecting a payment for each chicken sold.

KFC has been eager to celebrate kitschy parts of the Colonel’s history, while ignoring more complex attributes that made him both successful and dangerous to the brand while alive.

  1. For most of his life, he was a terrible businessman

Sanders had an extremely varied résumé before finding success in the fried-chicken business in his 60s. As a young man, he toiled as a farmhand and streetcar conductor before working for railroad companies across the South. Aspiring to be the next Clarence Darrow, Sanders studied law by correspondence and practiced in justice-of-the-peace courts in Arkansas until a courtroom brawl with a client derailed his legal career. He operated a steamboat ferry that crossed the Ohio River between Kentucky and Indiana, and he sold life insurance and automobile tires. During his time in Corbin, Sanders even delivered babies. “There was nobody else to do it,” Sanders recounted in his autobiography. “The husbands couldn’t afford a doctor when their wives were pregnant.”

  1. He once shot someone for his brand.

What Sanders lacked in business skills, he more than made up for in passion. When Sanders painted a large sign pointing potential customers from the highway toward his gas station in Corbin, Ky. (it would eventually expand into Sander’s first cafe), he enraged the owner of a competing gas station, Matt Stewart. Stewart painted over Sanders’ sign, leading to Sanders threatening to “blow [his] goddamn head off” and repainting the sign himself.  When Sanders discovered Stewart once again painting over the sign, he and two Shell officials ran to catch him red handed, heavily armed. In the resulting gun fight, the Shell manager was killed and Sanders shot Stewart in the shoulder.

  1. He cheated on his wife (a lot). 

While KFC loves certain quirky details about Sanders personal life, one of the facts KFC chooses not to highlight is his relationship with women, especially his two wives. Sanders married his first wife, Josephine, at the young age of 19. According to Colonel Sanders and the American Dream, his second wife’s nephew said Josephine wasn’t interested in a sexual relationship after giving birth to three children. So, Sanders “found what he needed to find in other places.”

  1. He’s not a military colonel.

If you’re not from Kentucky, you may have assumed that Sanders served as a military leader at some point in his long life. In fact, he was a Kentucky colonel, a title of honor awarded by the state of Kentucky. Sanders became a colonel in 1935 as the founder and owner of the gas station-adjacent restaurant Sanders Cafe, but misplaced his certificate, receiving his second colonelship in 1949.

In the 1950s, Sanders began marketing himself as a southern gentleman and Kentucky colonel, dying his beard white, crafting a string tie and donning his iconic white suit. As he franchised his concept starting in the ’50s, selling the recipe for his Kentucky fried chicken to restaurants across the U.S., this identity as a Kentucky colonel linked Sanders to a southern ideal that lent the Indiana-born man an air of legitimacy.

  1. He only made $2 million selling KFC.

After KFC went from a single cafe to a franchised concept, Sanders sold the business in 1964, feeling out of his league at the age of 75 as the chain rapidly grew. The $2 million, plus an ongoing salary to remain the face of the brand wasn’t a terrible deal. However, after the company’s profitable IPO, in which shareholders made millions, Sanders began to feel as though he got the short end of the stick.

At the company’s first franchisee convention after the IPO, Sanders took the stage and spent 40 minutes railing against management. He claimed executives were thinking only about the short-term and ruining his reputation. While he failed to win over the franchisees and went on to continue his duties as a spokesperson, it seems a part of him remained convinced he had been tricked into giving up his business.

  1. He tried to sue KFC for $122 million.

After KFC was sold to Heublein in 1971, Sanders’ appetite for disruption grew. When the chain denied him the right to open an antebellum-themed restaurant selling Original Recipe chicken, Sanders sued the company for $122 million. He eventually settled out of court for $1 million and a promise that the Colonel would stop embarrassing the company. Sanders did not keep up his end of the bargain.

  1. According to him, KFC doesn’t use the famous secret original recipe of 11 herbs and spices.

While very few people in the world know exactly what is in Colonel Sanders’ mix of 11 secret herbs and spices, we do know that the Colonel said many times in his life that KFC stopped using his recipe.  Whether or not the Colonel’s original recipe is in use today, it is clear that Sanders was dismissive of KFC’s menu in his final years. In 1970, the New Yorker quoted him saying the company’s new gravy recipe “ain’t fit for my dogs.” While the chain turned business around and reportedly improved food quality in the ’80s under new leadership, Sanders’ wasn’t around to see it. He died on Dec. 16, 1980, at the age of 90 .

  1. Sanders swore (darn it!).

The colonel may have appeared the epitome of a Southern gentleman, but his language was notoriously salty, particularly when he wasn’t pleased with the quality of food served up by franchisees. “The Colonel is famous among KFC people for the force and variety of his swearing,” reported a 1970 New Yorker profile. “I used to cuss the prettiest you ever heard,” Sanders admitted. “I did my cussin’ before women or anybody else, but somehow nobody ever took any offense.”

History Teacher Making History: Christa McAuliffe ( 1948 September 2nd)

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American astronaut chosen for the STS-51-L mission from among 11,000 applications. She was scheduled to become NASA’s first teacher in space, but was tragically killed in 1986 when the Challenger exploded.

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CHRISTA McAULIFFE ON KRNN, 9/02:  A professional teacher and crew member on the ill-fated Challenger space shuttle, Christa McAuliffe, was born on this date in 1948.  Please join us in honoring first teacher astronaut on Crosscurrents, 9/02, at 8am.

She started her career as an American history teacher at a middle school in Maryland.

She was posthumously granted the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 2004.

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After being chosen to be the first teacher in space, she was a guest on several television programs, including Good Morning America; the CBS Morning News; the Today Show; and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, where, when asked about the mission, she stated, “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.” She had an immediate rapport with the media, and the Teacher in Space Project received popular attention as a result.

#”I touch the future. I teach.”

#”Reach for it. Push yourself as far as you can.””Reach for the stars.”

“I really don’t want to say goodbye to any of you people.”

#”If anything, the overriding emotion is gonna just be excitement.”

“I have the LIFE magazine of the men walking on the moon.”

“Space is going to be commonplace.”

#I have a vision of the world as a global village, a world without boundaries.

#You have to dream. We all have to dream. Dreaming is OK. Imagine me teaching from space, all over the world, touching so many peoples lives. Thats a teachers dream

 Imagine a history teacher making history!

Space is for everybody. It’s not just for a few people in science or math, or for a select group of astronauts. That’s our new frontier out there, and it’s everybody’s business to know about space.

#May your future be limited only by your dreams!

#What are we doing here? We’re reaching for the stars!

One of the NASA “computers” sending astronauts to the moon: Katherine Johnson (1918 August 26th)

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Katherine Johnson, (born August 26, 1918, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, U.S.), American mathematician who calculated and interpreted the flight paths of several spacecraft during her more than three decades with the U.S. space program. Her industry helped convey astronauts to the Moon.

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KATHERINE JOHNSON ON KRNN, 8/26:  One of NASA’s human ‘computers,’ performing the complex calculations that enabled humans to successfully achieve space flight, Katherine Johnson was born on this date in 1918.  You can count on a 1-2-3-4 playlist on Crosscurrents, 8/26 at 8 am.

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In 1939 Johnson was chosen to be one of the first three African American students to enroll in a graduate program at West Virginia University. Later she was a member of a group of NASA employees called “computers,” made up of African American women who exceptional in mathematics and problem-solving.

Johnson also played an significant role in NASA’s Mercury program (1961–63) of manned spaceflights. In 1961 she calculated the path for Freedom 7, the spacecraft that put the first U.S astronaut in space, Alan B. Shepard, Jr. The following year, at the application of John Glenn, Johnson verified that the electronic computer had planned his flight correctly. Glenn subsequently made history aboard Friendship 7, becoming the first U.S. astronaut to orbit Earth. Johnson was also part of the team that calculated where and when to launch the rocket for the Apollo 11 mission of 1969, which sent the first three men to the Moon.

When asked to name her memorable contribution to space exploration, Katherine Johnson talks about the calculations that helped synch Project Apollo’s Lunar Lander with the moon-orbiting Command and Service Module. She also worked on the Space Shuttle and the Earth Resources Satellite, and authored or coauthored 26 research reports. She retired in 1986, after thirty-three years at Langley. “I loved going to work every single day,” she says. In 2015, at age 97, Katherine Johnson added another extraordinary achievement to her long list: President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor.