Retrospect: The Golden Eagle Syrup Co.

Fayette is home to one of the state's sweetest and stickiest businesses

The Golden Eagle Syrup factory in Fayette. Photo courtesy of Golden Eagle Syrup Co.

For nearly a century, the small northwest Alabama town of Fayette has been home to one of the sweetest, and stickiest, Alabama businesses. The Golden Eagle Syrup Co. has used the same recipe since 1928 and in the same location since 1944. The product boasts a loyal, national patronage who prize the simply made syrup at their breakfast tables and as a key ingredient in pecan pies and other desserts. Scores of Fortune 500 companies can only dream of such stability and brand loyalty.

Syrup maker Victor S. Patterson was born in Fayette County in 1895. He served in the Army during World War I and for a time was stationed in France. Returning to Alabama, he married Lucy Bobo of Fayette and worked as a conductor for a Birmingham streetcar company. A job with the Alabama Highway Department brought the Pattersons back to Fayette around 1920, the same year they welcomed their first child, a son named Victor Jr. 

Necessity is oftentimes the mother of invention. This was true, indeed, for how Golden Eagle syrup came into the world. Victor Patterson found that the table syrups popular at the time were too hard on his stomach. He and Lucy turned their kitchen into a laboratory and created a mixture of cane sugar, corn syrup, molasses and honey — four ingredients that made syrup history in north Alabama. Soon, the Pattersons were offering their elixir to friends and neighbors.

In October 1928, the couple decided to start their own business in a small, wooden structure next to their home. Patterson chose the name Golden Eagle for his new creation: golden for its color and eagle because it would soar above the competition, “A Syrup Without an Equal for Any Meal,” he said. The original label was slightly less colorful than the ubiquitous blue and yellow version known today. But from the start the slogan was the same: “Pride of Alabama.” So popular was the breakfast-table staple that, in some parts of Alabama, it quickly entered the lexicon. A north Alabama farmer’s market advertisement pronounced its ears of corn to be “young and tender and sweet as Golden Eagle.”

Workers at Golden Eagle Syrup in 1961. Photo courtesy of Golden Eagle Syrup Co.

Their syrup business soon grew beyond the bounds of the backyard factory. Additions were necessary in 1932, 1938 and 1942. In 1944, the company relocated to a vacant brick building in downtown Fayette that once housed a grocery warehouse. It was a rare change in a largely unchanging business. But it allowed production to increase, pushing the Golden Eagle brand, that “Pride of Alabama” into surrounding states.   

- Sponsor -

In 1948, Victor Patterson partnered with popular Alabama broadcaster Joe Rumore. Golden Eagle became an official advertiser and sponsor of Rumore’s morning radio program called “Yawn Patrol.” (Golden Eagle also later sponsored a television show by Duke Rumore, Joe’s brother.) For years to come, Rumore broadcast the honeyed goodness of Golden Eagle over the Alabama airwaves. In Jasper, the winner of a 1953 radio contest received $50 cash (about $565 today) and a whopping 30 gallons of Golden Eagle syrup, presented to her in person by Patterson and Joe Rumore. The radio personality became so synonymous with the brand that some grocers’ advertisements of the 1950s labeled the product “Joe Rumore’s Golden Eagle.”

In 1950, Gov. Jim Folsom launched “Alabama Industry Days,” an annual weeklong promotional campaign for products made in the Yellowhammer State. Golden Eagle Syrup Co. was an early participant. In Fayette, displays of local products were placed in a hardware store window. An advertisement paid for by Victor Patterson included the line “What Alabama Makes…Makes Alabama.” This was more than a catchphrase. By 1955, dozens of Alabama-made products totaling an inventory exceeding $10 million could be found in stores throughout the state. Among those offerings were foodstuffs like canned blackberries from King Pharr Canning in Selma and smoked meats from R. L. Ziegler & Co., salad and peanut oil from Sessions Co. in Enterprise and Fayette’s syrupy “Pride of Alabama.” They represented hundreds of jobs in communities across the state.

A Pickens County editorial in 1962 appealed to readers’ sense of community pride to support Golden Eagle. “It is your duty to demand their brands, not only because it is the best, but because it is your own local brand and merits your support.” Patrons of Alabama-made products were doing more than merely purchasing their favorite brands — they were supporting their fellow Alabamians.   

Making Golden Eagle Syrup in 1965. Photo courtesy of Golden Eagle Syrup Co.

Victor Patterson died on December 24, 1960. A few days earlier, the syrup-maker of more than 30 years had collapsed at the end of a Christmas party for Golden Eagle’s 14 employees. Lucy Patterson and the couple’s two children continued on in the business. Lucy Patterson died in 1972. Victor Patterson Jr. assumed his father’s mantle. With the exception of his time in military service during World War II and Korea, the younger Patterson spent his life in the family business, first as a laborer and then as a truck driver and sales manager.  

Victor Patterson Jr., alongside his sister Jeanie Patterson Newell and her husband, Herbert, ran Golden Eagle well into their sixties. But ill health forced them to sell in 1986. After nearly six decades as a family business, the Golden Eagle Syrup Co. changed hands. Following a series of other owners, Temple Bowling and John Blevins purchased the company in 2011.

Today, Golden Eagle syrup is made in the same facility that Victor Patterson purchased in 1944. A mural depicting the company’s history now graces one side of the building. Golden Eagle is made with the same recipe the Pattersons concocted in the kitchen of their small, Fayette home. Alongside syrup in various sizes and quantities, the company now offers clothing bearing the iconic blue-and-yellow label and slogan. In 2019, the company began offering its own brand of caramel corn, drizzled, of course, with Golden Eagle syrup. It was the first new product in company history.  

Historian Scotty E. Kirkland is a freelance contributor to Business Alabama. He lives in Wetumpka.

This article appears in the May 2023 issue of Business Alabama.

The latest Alabama business news delivered to your inbox