What Is the Vulcan Statue?

B. Turner

The Vulcan statue is a cast iron statue located in Birmingham, Alabama. Its name was inspired by Vulcan, the Roman god of forging and fire. The statue was built to celebrate the rich history of Birmingham's iron and steel industries. At 56 feet (17 m) high, and positioned on a base measuring 124 feet (37.8 m) in height, this figure is the tallest cast iron statue in the world. It weighs 101,200 tons (46,000 kg), and features a gray coloring that's common with cast iron objects.

The Vulcan statue is named after Vulcan, the Roman god of forging and fire.
The Vulcan statue is named after Vulcan, the Roman god of forging and fire.

At the start of the 20th century, Birmingham was known as the "Magic City" due to its incredible growth rate, which was largely thanks to the iron and steel industries. The city planned to announce its presence to the world at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, and decided to use the Vulcan statue to do so. James A. McKnight, who was the president of the Alabama State Fair organization at the time, hired sculptor Giuseppe Moretti to design the statue.

Moretti created a plaster mold for the figure of Vulcan, which was cast in 21 pieces at the Birmingham Steel and Iron Company. It was assembled and presented to the world as planned in June 1904 at the St. Louis World's Fair. The statue was very popular with fair visitors and won numerous awards for its design and ingenuity. After the fair, Birmingham city leaders were unsure what to do with the Vulcan statue. It was eventually installed on the Alabama State Fairgrounds so that local citizens were able to view it.

Through 1939, the Vulcan statue was used as part of many advertising campaigns, and was modified to hold objects ranging from pickles to beverages. In 1939, the citizens of Birmingham decided to relocate the statue to an area along Red Mountain. The land was dedicated as Vulcan Park, and the Vulcan statue was placed here and restored to its original glory. For many years afterwards, the statue held a lantern in one hand, which was set to glow green on days when no traffic accidents occurred, or red on the day of an accident. This campaign was designed to encourage safe driving in Birmingham, but was eventually halted.

Today, the Vulcan statue sits along Red Mountain with a visitor's center nearby to welcome tourists. Vulcan holds a hammer in his left hand, and a newly forged spear in his right. After undergoing many redesigns throughout his life, he has been painted gray to restore his original appearance.

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