The front Great Room at the Filson Historical Society boasts one of the most recognized faces in the world with a connection to Kentucky. No, not Henry Clay, his portrait is in the dining room. It is not Abraham Lincoln, although we do have a portrait of him also. Situated amongst the busts of Generals and Senators and the paintings depicting the landscape, lies the bust of Harland Sanders. Known throughout the world as Colonel Sanders, this man revolutionized the fried chicken industry with his cooking technique and “secret recipe.” Restaurants that bear his likeness are found in 90+ countries worldwide.
Most Kentuckians know the history of Colonel Sanders. Born in Indiana, he made his fortune in the chicken business. While living in Corbin, KY Colonel Sanders began selling food out of his serving station. When that location became too small, Sanders moved to a motel and restaurant and began to perfect his “secret recipe” for frying chicken. He was recognized with the honorary title “Kentucky Colonel” in 1935 and re-commissioned in 1950. After his initial restaurant went under due to the building of Interstate 75, Sanders began to look at the potential to franchise. With Dave Thomas (yes, that Dave Thomas), Sanders stripped the menu from possibly over 100 items to a few chicken items and salads. In 1964 Sanders sold his corporation for $2 million. In 1960 Colonel Sanders moved to the Louisville area and could be seen riding around in his red Cadillac wearing his iconic white suit with black western string tie. Sanders passed away in 1980 at the age of 90 and is buried at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.
The bust at the Filson is one of the artist’s proofs of the bust that adorns the Colonel’s gravesite at Cave Hill. The bust was given to the Filson in 1978 by Margaret Sanders Huenergardt, the artist and daughter of Colonel Sanders. If anyone is interested in seeing this Kentucky icon, the Filson Historical Society is open Monday-Friday from 9 AM to 5 PM.