Vulcan is a giant cast iron statue overlooking Birmingham, Alabama. The largest cast-iron statue in the world, the 50-ton sculpture reaches a height of 56 feet, accentuated by its perch atop Red Mountain. The statue is surrounded by Vulcan Park, a 10-acre park that includes the Vulcan Center history museum. Vulcan, the statue, was built in 1904 and is over 100 years old. He stands with his anvil to his left, by his side. In his right hand, he holds a spear high in the air, admiring his finished work. The statue is mounted on a stone base with an inscription describing the connection between Vulcan, the ancient Roman blacksmith, and Birmingham, a city rich in iron, steel and industry. The Vulcan Center Museum offers educational exhibits with a focus on the history of the statue itself and the “Building Birmingham” exhibit on the history of Birmingham. The Linn-Henley Gallery displays temporary exhibits related to the history of Alabama in general. The plaza just outside the museum displays a giant carved stone map of the city of Birmingham. The City Overlook is an observation tower offering expansive views of the Birmingham from high atop the stone base of the statue.
History: Vulcan was the ancient Roman god of forge, of hammering metal into useful items. Legend has it that Vulcan, the son of Jupiter and June, was banished from the realm of the gods as an ugly child, fell to earth, and became a blacksmith, using the volcanic flames of Mount Jupiter to heat his metals. Although ugly, he was peaceful and kind, and married Venus after a lifetime of service creating armor and weapons for gods. The City of Birmingham, founded in 1871, sits atop a vast resource of limestone, iron ore and coal. When city officials were searching for a promotional angle for the St. Louis World’s Fair, Vulcan was chosen as a likely mascot to represent the quickly growing industrial city in Alabama. Giuseppe Moretti, an Italian artist, was chosen to design Vulcan in 1904. The statue was cast by the Birmingham Steel and Iron Company in 21 separate pieces. The statue debuted in 1904 at the World’s Fair in the Palace of Mines and Metallurgy. The statue not only won the fair’s grand prize, but it won the awards for sculpture and foundry. Upon returning from the World’s Fair in 1905, Vulcan was improperly reassembled at the Alabama State Fair Grounds where he remained for nearly 30 years in an awkward state, without his sword. With the help of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression, Vulcan was properly assembled atop Red Mountain, and covered in aluminum paint. For a period of time in the 1940’s, Vulcan’s sword was removed and he carried a lighted beacon, which would switch from green to red on days in which a traffic accident was reported in Birmingham. Further mistakes were made in the 1960’s when Vulcan’s pedestal was covered with a large observation deck, making it difficult to see the statue from the ground. Finally, in 1999, after over 60 years on the mountaintop, the park closed so that much needed repairs to the cracking, damaged statue could be made. In the process of the park’s closure, the Vulcan Park Foundation was formed to raise funds not only for the statue’s restoration, but for the development of the 10 acre educational complex surrounding the sculpture. The statue was reassembled in its original, historic glory in 2004 after an infusion of $15.5 million from public and private donors.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Educational programming at the museum includes workshops for teachers and students, field trips, summer camps and clubs. The Vulcan’s Toolkit is a curriculum guide for teachers so they may relate exhibits at the museum to Alabama core courses. The museum is available for private events and hosts a variety of public events as well. Annual events include a concert series that takes place outdoors in the park. Guests are encouraged to bring picnics, chairs and blankets for daylong entertainment. Thunder on the Mountain is the annual July 4th celebration at Vulcan Park. The event has occurred for more than 10 years and is Alabama’s biggest and most extravagant fireworks shows, set to a musical soundtrack.
Past and Future Exhibits: Temporary exhibits at the museum have included “Southern Thunder: The Legacy of Alabama Auto Racing” and “5 Point South: Patience, People, and the Plan,” an exhibit on a historic neighborhood’s revival as an artist’s community.
1701 Valley View Drive, Birmingham, AL 35209, Phone: 205-933-1409