Days Gone By - stories from the past

Happy Birthday Vulcan!

Today, June 7th,  Vulcan, the largest cast iron statue in the world located in Birmingham, Alabama, is having a birthday. He is the centerpiece of Vulcan State Park on top of Red Mountain.


But did you know that poor Vulcan was once used as an advertising prop, holding a pickle barrel and fitted with giant sized overalls to cover his bare behind? This upset the sculptor so much that he stated: “I wish I never made him.

Vulcan at fairgrounds advertising Sherwin Williams

Vulcan_at_the_State_Fairgrounds_advertising_Sherwin_Williams_Paints

Largest cast iron statue in the world

The Vulcan statue is the city symbol of Birmingham, Alabama, reflecting its roots in the iron and steel industry. The 56-foot (17 m) tall statue depicts the Roman god Vulcan, god of the fire and forge. It was created as Birmingham’s entry for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (1904 World’s Fair) in St. Louis, Missouri.

Vulcan’s foot photographed by Carol Highsmith 2010 (Library of Congress)

vulcan

Vulcan was cast in a Birmingham foundry by local workmen from iron mined on RedMountain- the very mountain on which VulcanPark would later be constructed. Though time needed to complete the project was two to three years, Moretti had only months. In the next four months, men worked 60-hour weeks to ensure the statue would be complete. Vulcan won the Grand Prize in the Mine & Metallurgy Exhibit and Birmingham leaders had to reject offers from both St. Louis and San Francisco to buy the statue at the end of the Fair.Colossal iron statue at world's fair 1904

Poor Vulcan was dumped beside the railroad for unpaid freight bills

When shipped back from St. Louis, he was dumped beside the railroad due to unpaid freight bills. His original spear was lost enroute home from St. Louis. He was abandoned for years and suffered humiliation when he was finally put back together when the Birmingham State Fairgrounds offered him a home.

Vulcan at Fairgrounds in 1906Vulcan fairgrounds 1906

His arms were put on backwards and he was later used as an advertising prop, holding a pickle barrel and fitted with giant sized overalls to cover his bare behind. Watch the film below to learn more.

Colossal iron statue of Vulcan, 56 ft. high, weight 100,000 lbs., in Mines Bldg., World’s Fair, St. Louis, U.S.A.

(from Library of Congress  Underwood and Underwood, New York. c1904)

Colossal iron statue at world's fair 1904

Created as Birmingham’s entry in 1904 World’s Fair

It was created as Birmingham’s entry for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (1904 World’s Fair) in St. Louis, Missouri. It is the seventh-tallest free-standing statue in the United States and has overlooked the Birmingham since 1930.

At the feet of old Vulcan St. Louis Exposition

(photograph from Library of  Congress Keystone View Co. 1904)

At the feet of old Vulcan St. Louis Exposition

Birmingham was known as the ‘Magic City’

The city of Birmingham is unique because of the availability of the raw materials necessary for making iron: coal, iron ore and limestone. By 1900, Birmingham was called the “Magic City” because of its rapid population growth due to the larger number of workers needed to produce iron. City leaders wanted to advertise Birmingham and Alabama at the St. Louis World’s Fair and decided a statue of Vulcan would best highlight the area’s growing industrial abilities.

Vulcan,” God of fire, Alabama Iron Exhibit, Mines Building, World’s Fair, St. Louis, Mo.

(from Library of Congress  Philadelphia, Pa. : Griffith & Griffith, c1904)

Vulcan man of fire at alabama iron exhibit

Commercial Club commissioned Vulcan

Commissioned by the Commercial Club of Birmingham, Italian-born sculptor Giuseppe Moretti began designing the monumental figure in 1903, using a 6-foot (183 cm) tall model to study the form. He next sculpted a clay master model in an unfinished church in Passaic, New Jersey, and this was then divided into sections and transported by railroad to the Birmingham Steel and Iron Company for the preparation of casting molds for the iron.

Looking towards Vulcan, Palace of Mines and Metallurgy, Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St. Louis, Mo., U.S.A.

(from Library of Congress  Philadelphia, Pa. : Keystone View Co. c1904)

vulcan - looking towards vulcan st. louis

Kiwanis Club organized campaign to find Vulcan a home

In 1935, two members of Birmingham’s Kiwanis Club organized a citywide campaign to find the statue a decent home. Funds given by President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) allowed the construction of the park to begin.

By 1939, the 55-foot-tall Vulcan stood atop a 123-foot pedestal of native sandstone and marble quarried just a few hundred yards away. Once again holding a spear point in his right hand and a hammer in his left, the man of iron proudly dominated Birmingham’s skyline.vulcan on statue

Torch was placed in his right hand as a safety campaign in 1946

In 1946, the decision was made to place a torch in Vulcan’s right hand as a temporary traffic safety campaign for a few months. The red light signaled that there had been a traffic fatality in Birmingham; the green light shone to demonstrate there had not been a fatality.

Here’s a short video of Vulcan in April 4, 1991

 Vulcan was dismantled in 1999

In 1999, after years of rust and weather, the hard decision was made to dismantle to make needed repairs. Money was raised in Alabama through donations and those interested in restoring the park to its former days.

Short video of the dismantling in 1999

Vulcan was renovated as the sculptor intended

The torch was removed during the renovation of Vulcan. The decision was made to return Vulcan to the way that sculptor, Giuseppe Moretti, intended. Since the original spear point never returned from 1904 World’s Fair, a new one had to be cast.

Today, for the first time, since 1904, Vulcan is standing as he stood in St. Louis – gazing at the spear point in his outstretched right arm. The actual torch can now be seen in Vulcan Center Museum.

Cascades were removed from park

A fond memory of early visitors to Vulcan Park is the cascades. Constructed out of stone, water tumbled down the cascades in a series of falls and ponds that contained fish. The cascades were removed when the park was renovated in 1969-1971. No original 1936-1939 landscape records were found and preservationists needed original drawings to proceed with reconstruction. Today, the sloping grass hills between the stone steps that lead up to Vulcan are designed to simulate the original cascades.

Vulcan Park April 26, 2010

Wish him a Happy Birthday by sharing your favorite memories of Vulcan in the reply section below.

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About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and www.daysgoneby.me All her books can be purchased at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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65 comments

  1. David Cost

    When we used to come to Birmingham in the 1960s in the summers the first thing we would look for coming into town was the Vulcan statue and wanted to see if the torch was red or green 🙂 Very fond memories of visits and watching the fish in the pond. Still first thing I look for now coming south on I-65

  2. my grandfather, Henry Hugh Morgan, Sr., was the foreman at the foundry in Birmingham that cast the Vulcan statue…….

    1. Joan,

      I purchased a bottle of wine recently, strictly because it had the Vulcan on it. I saw it was fermented by Morgan Vineyards, and that that was a dedication to their great-grandfather, I believe. I’m assuming your grandfather is the same person!?

      1. robbie…sorry but i don’t know anything about the Morgan vineyards or who these Morgans are…possibly cousins but not to my knowledge

  3. Justin Seales

    The best demigod ever!!!

  4. Larry Pruitt

    My uncle E.L. Fesperman who owned Alabama Neon Sign Company installed the light in Vulcan’s torch.

  5. Jill Butler Bolen

    They need to bring the light back!!!!

  6. Sherron Hayes

    We live in Birmingham when I was in first and second grade….I remember always looking for the Vulcan torch when we’re out driving at night! It was awesome to a little six year old…. Actually still is! If you have never visited Vulcan park…. You need it on your bucket list!!!!

  7. Kelly Thompson

    Put those Liberty’s back on the Vulcan and put the pickle barrel! lol !

  8. […] stone in the world. The state’s marble resources were first made famous by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Moretti, and stone from the quarries there was sculpted into a bust of Abraham Lincoln displayed in the […]

  9. Tereca Sumrsnow

    Rick and I stopped at the Vulcan on the way home from Richmond’s funeral. It was awesome.

  10. I remember my mother and grandmother talking about how my great grandfather helped build the Vulcan in Birmingham.

    1. joann…..could i ask what your mother and grandmother’s names are?? ni am just wondering if we might be related

  11. My mother who grew up near the fairgrounds talks about walking inside Vulcans arm when they dismantled him for the move to red mountain. We climbed those stairs of Vulcan tower many times in the 50s and 60s. Fond childhood memories.

    1. My mother had an uncle who lived near the fairgrounds. She said she remembered climbing on Vulcan’s hand as he lay on the ground.

  12. I remember taking the stairs back in the 80’s with my girlfriends, kissing in the stairwells, and all the graffiti on the walls. Years later, when I was a married man with a new baby and Vulcan was dismantled and in pieces on the ground, my wife and I took pictures of my baby daughter sitting on Vulcan’s big toe.

  13. I remember a GREAT Halloween party there in the 90’s. Can’t believe it really happened, actually. Somebody must have known somebody to ever get the OK for that night.

  14. I remember going to Alabama football games with my dad and grandfather, at Legion Field, when I was a boy. Every time we went, I always looked for the green or red light! It was a such a part of Birmingham. I’ll never forget it!

  15. […] and Harold remember the Statue of Vulcan when it was first brought to Birmingham and located in the Fair […]

  16. I use to love to climb the steps to reach the landing and look out over Birmingham. My mother use to sit at his feet at the fairgrounds when she was a child.

  17. Sherry Strength Whitson

    Mike Whitson, Hilary Eve Benson Whitson, thought you would enjoy reading this. Rene Battle Gilbert

  18. Terrie Stanford

    Lymann Rea hope you like this

  19. Sandra Smith

    Its a statue! Melt it down and make something useful. Like guns.

  20. Vicki Black

    If you’ve never visited Vulcan, you should. He’s quite a sight.

    1. Valerie Lackey

      He is. I will attest to that. I visited Bama for a football game and because we live in the west we were not aware of the blue state so we had to find things to do on Sunday. He was one of them. So much fun.

    2. I’ve been there, done that and get the T-shirt. I love history, I truly do, but this country is in a bind.

  21. Valerie Lackey

    Happy birthday Vulcan.

  22. L

    This is for you Rachel Susan! Have a piece of cake!

  23. Did you know that 8 million in federal tax dollars was spent to restore the piece of metal?

    1. Susan Bryant Myers

      beats paying illegals to move here and ignore our other laws

    2. That needs to stop also.

    3. Alabama Pioneers

      Where did you get your 8 million figure? I found this statement on Bhamwiki but it was not 8 million. “In 2006 the restoration was given an Honor Award by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. $1.5 million of the restoration cost was included in the 2001 Interior Department Appropriations Bill (passed in 2000) at the request of Senator Richard Shelby.

    4. Your right I got that number wrong, and Richard should have paid that out of his pocket, not tax dollars. We need to spend our money more wisely, as we have more pressing matters to deal with.

    5. Alabama Pioneers

      Thanks for correcting the figure. Here is a link to a Congressional Record

    6. Craig Brasfield

      $1.5M is nothing for an important B’ham icon like Vulcan! Its preservation means more than some apparently know.

  24. Did you know that 8 million in federal tax dollars was spent to restore this piece of metal?

  25. Elizabeth Hardee

    My uncle took me to this many time when I was growing up , oh how I miss him and my summer visits to Birmingham .

  26. David Leonard

    I would like to see it holding a pickle barrel again….I Love pickles!

  27. Michael Thompson Ellis

    I love the Vulcan ! We used to watch it out of or cousins bedroom window on Red Mountain in Homewood !

  28. Ronald A. Jacobson

    Hmm, Maybe he was psychic & trying to tell us something !

  29. Bill Danford

    Better to use it on Vulcan than illegal aliens making them into Democrats.

  30. Ann Hilson Guess

    My mom used to tell us about Vulcan being at the AL fairgrounds when she was a girl. Kids were told if they got lost, they should go sit on Vulcan’s toe and wait for their parents to find them.

    1. My mother has told me stories of her childhood that included attending the State Fair and looking forward to meeting her cousins at Vulcan. She said the children “drew straws” to see which of them could sit on Vulcan’s feet while they ate their picnic dinner. Mom was born in 1903 and vividly recalled the good times at the Fair and drawing the “short straw” which enabled her to sit on Vulcan’s feet!

  31. Rhonda Bonner Dodd

    This is the second story I have heard on the Vulcan.But my best memories of the Vulcan as a young girl with friends going and climbing all those steps and at the top walking out side where you could walk all around the Vulcan.It had a tall fence like around it and the wind would fill like it was going to blow you off. Love the memories of going.Those stairs seem like forever to climb but lots of fun.

  32. Gerri Mooney Ballard

    My husband and I have visited our granddaughter twice and have not been able to go up in the Valcan yet. Lighting made one trip impossible; the second time, there were field trips of two classes and they went up five at a time. Have to go back soon.

  33. […] do I remember the VULCAN. OH, yes. There was a small area around it and it had a merry-go-round. I was four and the first […]

  34. I was born and raised in suburb of Birmingham…….we had a class trip to The Vulcan once…..I was so excited…..and have had dates that took me to Vulcan…..we had fun climbing all the steps……
    HAPPY BIRTHDAY VULCAN….

  35. Laura Dothard

    I remember before they got a elevator and had to climb all those stairs.. But once at the top it was well worth it

  36. Wayne Dean

    Back in the 60s when I was a Bama student we would go up to Vulcan after night games at Legion Field, climb the stairs inside the marvelous red structure, and get a wonderful night-time view of the city. Can’t do that anymore. I have also found it interesting that Vulcan is there instead of Zeus because of the influence in the community of a-then Birmingham Mystic society, the Kreme of Rex Vulcan, now defunct.

  37. Kearney Hall

    To visit at night was a beautiful sight overlooking the city.

  38. Ron McCreary

    Saw it riding on an FSU Marching Chiefs bus headed for Birmingham for a football game against Bama in the 1960s.

  39. When I was a child we visited my Grandma’s house in Gadsden twice a year. When I saw the beautiful Vulcan, it confirmed that we were getting close to her house and I would stop asking,
    “are we there yet?”

  40. Happy Birthday Vulcan! Enjoyed looking up your skirt from Hillside Circle Homewood. Loved the beautiful dogwoods that flanked the drive. That was in the 70’s.

  41. As a child, I too looked for the Vulcan’s red or green light when coming into town from Kimberly . Wonderful memory I have shared with my family when visiting Birmingham.

  42. Jerry Robinson

    Back in the late 50s I would throw paper airplanes off and watch to see how far they would go.

  43. Sandra Clements Allen Chester

    My parents and I would visit my aunt and uncle in Birmingham, and most every time they took me to see “the iron man,” as I called him as a child. I remember the fish in the cascades as well. Great memories were made there!

  44. I have fond memories of Vulcan, as well. The torch light was particularly significant to me, as my father was a State Highway Patrolman. I can also remember a sight even more impressive to an imaginative little girl, when there were still foundries open to the skies, glowing domes of red casting an eerie and magical glow to the city. We need symbols like Vulcan, to remind us of our history! I’m so glad he’s been refurbished!

  45. Brian Dorsett

    I used to walk out of my Aunt Mallie’s house and look straight up at Vulcan. That used to scare me!! We used to look hard when it got dark to see if the lantern was red or green. Never wanted to see red!!

  46. I was born in Birmingham. I was so impressed when we began studying Birmingham which was in jour history book, Vulcan was at the forefront. I have to correct the statement that Vulcans light was originally used for a traffic fatality. It was a fatality but the fatality was in the mines.it did not become a traffic fatality until much later. I love this so impressive city.

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