Legg Celebrates 100 Years in Business

So how do you tell a story that is not yours to tell? That’s the question I’ve wrestled with the last several weeks as I prepared for this specific moment. There is an old Greek Proverb that says “A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they will never sit.” Today, me an my family members and colleagues at A.C. Legg are sitting in the shade of a tree that was planted over a hundred years ago in Birmingham, Alabama.

Andrew Caughman Legg had run a successful sausage kitchen first with his father, then by himself for a period spanning more than 30 years when our story begins. A former banker turned butcher supply entrepreneur by the name of Joseph Verner Cowart was servicing the sausage kitchen. Legg’s Sausage Kitchen was a well-known in the area and his pork sausage was considered the best around. Mr. Cowart learned over the years that the secret to Legg’s Pork Sausage wasn’t the meat, but his secret blend of aromatic spices. According to Mr. Cowart, he convinced Mr. Legg that he could market that sausage seasoning across not only the Southeast, but the rest of the country. So on May 11, 1923, Mr. Legg, Mr. Cowart, along with an insurance salesmen, Mr. Leon Cole, formed the A.C. Legg Packing Company. Mr. Legg converted the building his sausage kitchen was into a seasoning factory. On December 8, 1923, they shipped their first barrel of Legg’s Blend 10 seasoning to Jonesboro, Arkansas. Mr. Legg sold his interest in the company in the first two years and moved to Georgia where he attempted to grow domestic sage.

Over the next 7 years the company would grow from $10,000 of revenue in 1924 to over $1,000,000 in 1931, primarily on the sales of Blend 10. After the first couple of years of only selling Blend 10, the company introduced bologna, bratwurst, and wiener seasonings. The company marketed nationally through Good Housekeeping and at one point we were in the Sears Roebuck Catalog. Mr. Cowart eventually bought out Mr. Cole during the 1930’s as the company continued to be very successful pushing the Legg’s Brand. In 1935, we moved from our original location to 2319, 1st Ave N. But times change and so did we. During this time, my grandfather, Charles W. Purvis, was hired as an office clerk.

During the 1940’s and 1950’s smaller processors started appearing. We started making seasoning for them and over time the business shifted from our own products to helping them make theirs. In 1946, Mr. Cowart would sell his interest in the company to Mr. Paul Blanchard, the salesmen, and my grandfather, Charles W. Purvis. Over time, Mr. Blanchard acquired almost all the stock of the company except for the few shares owned by my grandfather.

In the 1950’s, Paul’s son D.B. “Jerry” Blanchard would take over the business. He expanded our 1st Avenue foothold taking over additional space and expanded sales significantly. Most of this was done through the move to custom processors. Mr. Blanchard would pass in 1975 and his wife, Elizabeth took over the company. My grandfather ran it for her. In the Spring of 1977, she hired my father, Jim Purvis, to work with his dad. At this point my dad found out for the first time that his father would likely be the next owner of A.C. Legg. I don’t know much about my grandfather except through stories, but I would have never wanted to play cards with him. That man kept his cards close to the vest.

During the 1980’s Charles would bring his other son Charles M. “Bud” and grandson, Chuck into the business. Family was extremely important to my grandfather. It is extremely important to us now. My grandfather would pass in October, 1988, leaving my father, Jim Purvis, in charge. In 1990, my father would bring his sister, Sandra Purvis, into the company.

During the 1990’s we continued to grow. We grew to the point where we had to make a choice: sale or move. We initially bought property in the Oxmoor Valley, but staying in Birmingham wasn’t in the cards for us. Jim, Bud, Sandra, and Chuck started looking for a new home. They eventually settled on Calera, Alabama. In fact, our location is less than 2 miles away from the place where Mrs. Blanchard first hired my dad in 1977. After breaking ground in the Summer of 2000, we moved in on September 10, 2001. Calera has been our home ever since. Good thing that tree that was planted in Birmingham was tall enough to provide us shade down here in Calera.

Jeffrey Purvis