After joining the army at 16, in 1906, for a brief stint, he received a much higher honorary rank from the Gov. of his state 29 years later

On Thursday, June 27, 2024, “Jeopardy!” featured a compelling Final Jeopardy question in the category “Businessmen.”

The clue provided was: “After joining the army at 16, in 1906, for a brief stint, he received a much higher honorary rank from the Governor of his state 29 years later.” This clue points to an influential figure in American business history, whose military and business careers intertwine remarkably.

Who is Colonel Harland Sanders?

The answer to this intriguing Final Jeopardy clue is Harland Sanders, better known as Colonel Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). This connection may initially seem surprising to some, given Colonel Sanders’ ubiquitous association with fast food rather than military achievements.

Harland Sanders, born in 1890, indeed joined the army at a young age, serving in Cuba for several months before his discharge. The title “Colonel” that famously precedes Sanders’ name is not a military rank from active service but an honorary title. In 1935, the then-Governor of Kentucky, Ruby Laffoon, recognized Sanders’ contributions to the state’s cuisine and commerce by bestowing upon him the honorary title of Kentucky Colonel.

This honorary title played a significant role in Sanders’ life and marketing strategy for his business. He leveraged the distinguished image of a Southern gentleman, which helped establish the branding of Kentucky Fried Chicken as a quintessentially Southern brand. This branding was instrumental in distinguishing his business in the competitive fast-food market, contributing significantly to its global success.

Sanders’ story is a testament to the impact of personal branding and reinvention. The title of Colonel became more than just an honorific—it transformed Sanders into a living logo for KFC, complete with a distinctive white suit and black string tie that made him instantly recognizable worldwide. His commitment to quality and hands-on management style were key components of the business philosophy that drove KFC to international acclaim.

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