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Statue of Vulcan at St. Louis World's Fair, 1904
Vulcan, St. Louis World's Fair, 1904 Courtesy: Birmingham Historical Society


The world's largest cast iron statue, this depiction of Vulcan, the Roman god of the forge, was commissioned by businessmen of Birmingham's Commercial Club to promote the area's mining resources and to symbolize Alabama's supremacy in the production of iron.

In 1903, industry in Birmingham was in full bloom. The Birmingham District was proven as a major producer of iron and had begun to produce rail steel. Iron foundries were prevalent. U.S. Pipe had begun the manufacture of cast-iron pipe. The opportunity to advertise Birmingham to the nation came to fruition in the city's exhibit of its Vulcan statue at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri.

The sculptor, Italian-born Giuseppe Moretti, with his workmen created a statue of colossal size -- 56 feet from sandals to the outstretched hand. It now stands on a 123-foot column. Vulcan is the largest U.S. statue after the Statue of Liberty. But in 1904 it originally took its place in the Palace of Mines and Metallurgy at the World's Fair in St. Louis. At Vulcan's feet were exhibits of Alabama's raw materials and the products made from them. He held, in his extended right hand, a spear point, while his left hand gripped a hammer resting on an anvil.

After seven months at the fair, Vulcan was disassembled by a St. Louis storage company, and, in February 1905, transported back to Birmingham free of charge by the L & N Railroad. As a "temporary" measure, Vulcan was re-erected -- with both arms installed incorrectly -- at the Alabama State Fair Grounds in Birmingham's West End. Vulcan was there put to use hawking products, such as Weldon Ice Cream Company cones and Heinz pickles. This "temporary" placement lasted over 30 years.

Not until the summer of 1935 did the Birmingham Kiwanis Club meet and go public with a plan to move Vulcan to Red Mountain, overlooking the city -- the original site designated for the statue after the Fair. Finding acceptance, the plan was carried out employing Italian stonemasons working for the WPA to build a slender pink sandstone column as the pedestal for Vulcan. Vulcan was finally installed in 1939 -- this time, correctly -- on Red Mountain visible to all Birmingham.

As the years went by, Vulcan began to suffer from water damage and graffiti. The concrete poured into Vulcan up to his shoulders to help anchor him to his new perch in the late 1930s is trapping moisture and causing long-term deleterious effects on the iron plates and their connections. Vulcan is slowly cracking up.

But perhaps the greatest damage was done by a 1969 modernization effort which thickened the tower on which Vulcan stands and sheathed it in white polished marble, and at the base of the tower a flared anodized aluminum roof covered a large structure -- creating a massive form that visually overwhelms the statue. The finely tuned relationship which existed in 1939 between the original slim stone tower and the walks and fountains of rugged natural character has been lost.

In 1993, a Vulcan Task Force appointed by Mayor Richard Arrington recommended the full restoration of the statue and its surrounding park. In 1904 a symbol of the progressive movement toward industrialization in the South, the sculpture now stands as an embodiment of the values of vision and hard work of the citizens of Birmingham. The current challenge for Birmingham remains preserving this National Register landmark and restoring Vulcan to his original heroic and noble form. A pedestal restoration project led by the Birmingham Historical Society is now underway.

Text and photographs document its history and present importance in local traditions. Project documentation also includes a Birmingham Historical Society book entitled Vulcan & His Times.

Originally submitted by: Jeff Sessions, Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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