The Vulcan statue is the largest cast iron statue in the world, and it the symbol of city of Birmingham, Alabama, reflecting its roots in the iron and steel industry. The 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. It is the seventh-tallest free-standing statue in the United States.
The Vulcan statue consists of 29 cast-iron components with connecting flanges that are bolted together internally. The heaviest section is his whole head, which weighs . Iron forgemen designed and executed the connection details for the statue, which originally had no internal framework and was self-supporting. The grey iron castings were made in Birmingham entirely from locally-produced iron.
The completed weight of the god Vulcan's figure alone is . When Vulcan's anvil, block, hammer, and spearpoint are added, the statue weighs a total of and it now stands on a pedestal that is tall. The statue has a chest circumference of and a waist circumference of .
When the Exposition in St. Louis ended, the Vulcan statue was dismantled and returned to its home city of Birmingham, only to be left in pieces alongside the railroad tracks due to unpaid freight bills.
With nothing to hold in its hands, Vulcan soon became an advertising figure. Over the years, Vulcan held an ice cream cone, a Coca-Cola bottle, and even Heinz pickles. In the late 1920s, the statue was disassembled for inspection. During this time, children would often play around the disassembled statue. It was painted a flesh color and was reassembled in the early 1930s.
A nine day festival commenced on May 7, 1939 to dedicate Vulcan Park. Miss Evelyn Tully was crowned the Vulcan Queen. Guests of honor included the foundrymen who originally cast Vulcan. A crowd of 5,000 was present for the opening night of the festival.
To take full advantage of Vulcan's position overlooking Birmingham, the city's Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1946 made the statue into a symbol for road safety. His spear was replaced by a neon torch that glowed green, except during the 24 hours following a fatal traffic accident, when it glowed red.
Unfortunately, the statue itself had, at some point, been filled up to the chest with concrete and had begun to deteriorate seriously. By 1990, an engineering study found that the statue was in danger of collapse.
Vulcan was removed during October and November 1999 in preparations for a $14 million renovation process that saw the park and pedestal restored to its original 1938 appearance. The statue sat in Vulcan Park's parking lot until the fall of 2001, when it was shipped to Robinson Iron to be repaired. The statue itself was thoroughly inspected and repaired, with some parts, including the lost spear point, re-cast. The new and restored pieces were thoroughly coated with a durable paint system, including a light-gray finish coat dubbed "Vulcan Gray" by the specifier.
Meanwhile in 2002, the 1971 park additions were demolished, and scaffolding went up around Vulcan's tower. Workmen cleaned and repaired the original tower. Vulcan's head and right arm went on display at the Birmingham Museum of Art while the tower was prepared.
Vulcan was re-erected on a steel armature atop his tower during June 2003, restored to its original appearance as intended by Moretti, slightly reoriented to the east. Television stations WVTM and WBRC both provided live webcams of the reinstallation.
Shortly after the statue was reinstalled, the scaffolding came down, and a new observation deck, providing panoramic views of the area, was installed. The museum at the base was rebuilt, though it now serves as a storage area. A new elevator was installed, but oriented so it would not be easily seen from downtown Birmingham. The original waterfalls were not rebuilt, though the stone walkways leading from the parking lot directly to Vulcan's tower were restored. The statue and park were officially reopened in 2004, celebrating Vulcan's 100th birthday. In 2004, Vulcan Park welcomed more than 100,000 visitors. The restoration project received a National Preservation Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2006.