Lee was the only child of Colonel James Williamson and Morgia Reynolds Word Lee at their plantation near Aberdeen in Monroe County, Mississippi. He attended public schools in Aberdeen and then graduated from the Agricultural and Mechanical College of at Starkville, then earned a degree from the Eastman School of Business in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1883.
In 1884 Lee went to work for W. C. McMillan, a cotton merchant, as bookkeeper. On February 1, 1888 he moved to Birmingham and kept books for a shoe wholesaler for a few years before he partnered with McMillan, H. C. Terrell and A. O. Stoddard in the formation of the McMillan-Lee Grocery Company in 1892. McMillan retired from the business after only six months, leaving Lee in charge. The firm merged with Simmons, Durham & Company in 1901 to form the Alabama Grocery Company with Lee as president.
Meanwhile, Lee was working with Selma chemist Ashby Coleman to create a carbonated soft drink from the popular ginger-based tonic sold by Alabama Grocery Company. The "Buffalo Rock" name for the resulting golden ginger ale debuted in 1906. Lee eventually sold off the other aspects of his business to focus on bottling the product and applied for a Trade Mark in 1917. Lee was elected president of the National Bottlers Association in 1922 and served two terms. The Alabama Grocery Company was officially renamed the Buffalo Rock Company in 1927.
Lee married the former Minnie Coleman on March 27, 1889 and resided at 3519 Country Club Road. They had five children: Sidney Jr, James Coleman, Annie (Barker), Emma (Dean), and Minnie (Thames). James took over the company after his father's death, and has passed it down to his son, Jimmy Lee, Jr, and thence to his son, Jimmy Lee III.
|CEO of Buffalo Rock
James C. Lee
- Citizens Historical Association (February 27, 1937) "Sidney Word Lee, Executive, 3519 Country Club Road, Birmingham, Alabama." Biographical Sketches of Citizens of Birmingham and Jefferson County, Alabama Indexed and compiled by Birmingham Public Library, 1965
- Lee, Peyton (February 16, 2012) "Sidney Word Lee: The Greatest Great Grandfather I Never Met." Birmingham Weekly