KFC's current ad campaign stars a cartoonish Colonel Sanders played by "Saturday Night Live" alumnus Darrell Hammond, but the fast-food icon was a real person who followed an unlikely path to creating a multibillion-dollar international company.

                                  


The real Col. Sanders was an entrepreneur who didn't become a professional chef until he was 40, didn't franchise Kentucky Fried Chicken until he was 62, and didn't become an icon until after he sold his company at 75.

According to a 1970 New Yorker profile by William Whitworth, as well as biographies from Bio and the University of Houston, here are the highlights of the Colonel's remarkable rise to success.

Harland Sanders was born in 1890 and grew up on a farm in Indiana. When he was 6 years old, Sanders' father died, leaving him to take care of his younger brother and sister while his mom spent long days working. One of these responsibilities was feeding his siblings, and by age 7 he was already a decent cook, His mom remarried when he was 12. Because his new stepfather didn't like the boys around, Sanders' brother was sent to live with an aunt while he was sent to work on a farm about 80 miles away.
Sanders soon realized he would rather work all day than go to school, so he dropped out in the seventh grade.

In addition to a stint in Cuba with the Army, Sanders spent the first half of his life working a series of odd jobs, including stoking the steam engines of trains throughout the South, selling insurance, selling tires, making lighting systems, and operating a ferry boat.

He acquired a service station in Corbin, Kentucky, in 1930 and began serving classic Southern dishes to travelers. The location became known for its food, and Sanders eventually got rid of the service station's gas pump and converted the location to a full-fledged restaurant.His breakthrough came in 1939 when he found that frying his chicken and its signature "11 herbs and spices" in a new device, a pressure cooker (different from the ones used today), resulted in the ideal consistency he had been looking for.

Sanders' restaurant enjoyed great popularity over the next decade, and in 1950 the governor of Kentucky named him colonel, the highest title of honor the state can give. Sanders began dressing the part, adopting the white suit and Kentucky colonel tie that would help make him a pop-culture icon.

In 1952, he made a deal with his restaurateur friend, Pete Harman, to sell his chicken dish as "Kentucky Fried Chicken" in exchange for a 4-cent royalty on every piece sold. After it became a top-selling item, Sanders made the same deal with several other local restaurants.