Chattanooga Medicine Company (Now Chattem)
The businesses that employ members of your family. The scenic spots where you bring your out of town relatives. The route you ride your bike on Saturdays. The hospital that helped your kids get well. What these aspects of our daily lives have in common is that they were all made possible by people who founded not only some of Chattanooga’s most enduring businesses, but a large part of the makeup of our city as we know it today.
The men and women featured here didn’t just create profitable, lasting companies and institutions. They shaped the history, infrastructure, and culture of our city, overcoming challenges such as the Great Depression, personal illness, and shifting economies, to make a positive impact on the lives around them. They might not have known in the early years and the lean years if their businesses would survive, much less change the fate of the little boom town on the river. But by daring to start new business ventures, creating charitable organizations, opening tourist attractions, preserving land, and building iconic buildings, they became not just a part of Chattanooga’s history, but integral to its future.
By Meghan O’Dea
Few Chattanooga families go as far back as the Pattens. The family’s long history in our city begins against the tumultuous backdrop of the Civil War with *Zeboim C. Patten. Hailing from Wilma, New York, Patten served in the Union Army with the 115th Illinois and the 149th New York Infantries. He fought in the Battle of Chickamauga with the former Infantry, where he received a foot wound that sent him back to New York to recover before being commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant with the latter.
Patten joined the New York unit in Dalton in May of 1864 and shortly thereafter was wounded once again – this time in the left arm in the Battle of Resaca. Eventually he retired from the army and joined the Quartermaster Corps, which brought him to Chattanooga in 1865.
Known by the majority of his acquaintances as “Cartter” and his close friends as “Bome,” Patten became one of many Northerners who decided to settle in the South after the war to pursue business opportunities. While with the Quartermaster Corps in Chattanooga he befriended T.H. Payne, another war veteran, and together they decided to open a book and stationery store called Patten & Payne about a year after the war ended. A few years after that, Patten bought an interest in the Chattanooga Times.
In 1879, Patten opened the Chattanooga Medicine Company with several business partners. Known today as Chattem, the company would become his most lasting legacy in the area. He acquired almost total ownership by the 1880s and became its president in 1891.
A wise and ambitious businessman and salesman, Patten grew Chattanooga Medicine Company into a prominent business by becoming one of the first to employ mass marketing techniques and he was greatly aided in this endeavor by his nephew, John A. Patten. His investment in our community didn’t stop there, though. In 1903, he founded founded Volunteer State Life Insurance Company, and he served as the company’s president and CEO until his death in 1925 at age 85. Also in 1903, he headed up the Stone Fort Land Company and developed downtown properties, including the city’s first high-rise, the Hotel Patten.
In the past century, many descendants and relations of Zeboim Patten have continued to contribute to Chattanooga’s growth and development, changing the direction of the city time and time again.
*Zeboim Cartter Patten is not to be confused with his nephew, Zeboim Charles Patten. Zeboim Charles was also a civic leader in Chattanooga and is known for contributing generously to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. His daughter, Dorothy Patten, was a noted performer. Today UTC’s Fine Arts Series is named in her honor.
To Read About More of Chattanooga’s Founding Fathers, click the following links: