Skip to main content

On the 120th anniversary of Colonel Harland Sanders’ birth, the company he founded made a stunning discovery: Most people didn’t know he was a real person.

In a nationwide survey, 61% of Americans were unable to identify the white-bearded man whose stylized image graces the buckets of original recipe fried chicken at KFC (Stock Quote: YUM), and more than half believed he was a made-up corporate icon.

In response, the Louisville, Ky.-based fast food chain is launching a PR campaign to raise awareness of its beloved founder, who passed away in 1980. KFC is asking artists to upload a sketch of the Colonel to its website, and the winner will be paid $1,100 to paint a new portrait of the Colonel – with paint infused with the famous 11 herbs and spices, of course.

“Colonel Sanders wasn’t Kris Kringle, Father Time or Uncle Sam,” said John R. Neal, a KFC franchisee, in a press release.

TheStreet Recommends

Nor is he Ronald McDonald or the King, both fictional corporate mascots who lack the real-life connection that Colonel Sanders has traditionally had with KFC. While the loss of that connection is at least partly attributable to the 30 years that has passed since the Colonel’s death, KFC also shares some blame, as his depiction in the chain’s logo has grown increasingly more stylized over the years.

Indeed, the emphasis on the founder and the commissioning of a painted portrait may signal a renewed focus on tradition for KFC. The chain has arguably strayed from their roots in recent years, introducing both grilled chicken – a move that angered some franchisees – and novelty items like the Double Down.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at