Georgia’s first pure cane syrup was made by Seaborn Anderson Roddenbery, a Cairo doctor who practiced medicine by horseback and ran a general store. Over time, Roddenbery’s syrup business—the W. B. Roddenbery Company—became a regional favorite that also included pickles and peanut butter. In 1993 the business was folded into Dean Foods, a larger national company.
Roddenbery started his business in 1862, when he opened a doctor’s office and general store. He made sugarcane syrup, which he sold in cypress barrels, and customers brought in their own jars to fill with the nectar. Roddenbery began marketing his wares as the state’s first pure cane syrup, and within ten years he had a 1,000-acre sugarcane farm and had given up his medical practice because, he claimed, most of his customers didn’t pay. In 1889 the company began marketing the Georgia cane syrup under the Roddenbery label. Over time, the business produced 120 barrels of cane syrup a day and sold various other types of syrups, including maple and corn.
In 1904 Roddenbery made an appearance at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, where he served pancakes topped with the famous syrup. Locally, syrup was so important that Cairo’s high school athletic teams were nicknamed the Syrupmakers and Syrupmaids.
By the time it became known as the W. B. Roddenbery Company around 1920, the operation had diversified its product line, growing watermelons, making cigars, and running a hardware business. As early as 1936 the company was producing a wide variety of pickles. They began producing peanut butter in 1937 and canned boiled peanuts in 1960.
The company continued to be owned and operated by three generations of the family in Cairo, where in 1964 the family donated funds to build a new public library under the leadership of librarian Wessie Connell. Lucretia Roddenbery Gainey, Roddenbery’s great-great granddaughter, became the company’s first female executive in the mid-1980s. Three years before the company’s centennial, in 1986, W. B. Roddenbery was producing forty-five kinds of pickles, twelve types of syrups, four kinds of peanut butter, and millions of boiled peanuts.
In 1993 the largest private-label pickle-supplier in the country, Texas-based Dean Foods, purchased the W. B. Roddenbery company. Although Dean Foods still markets products under the Roddenbery label, it closed the Cairo operation in 2002.