In 1903 the Commercial Club of Birmingham, Alabama commissioned Giuseppe Moretti to build a 56-foot tall statue depicting the Roman god Vulcan, which was the 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. The cast iron statue is the largest in the world, and the seventh-tallest free-standing statue in the United States.
Vulcan consists of 29 cast-iron components with connecting flanges that are bolted together internally. His head is the heaviest section, which weighs 11,000 pounds. Originally the statue was self-supporting without an internal framework. The grey iron castings were made in Birmingham entirely from locally-produced iron.
The statue was shipped to St. Louis as Birmingham’s entry into the 1904 World’s Fair, where it won the grand prize. Then it returned home only to be left in pieces alongside the railroad tracks due to unpaid freight bills. Vulcan was eventually re-erected at the Alabama State Fairgrounds, but the statue’s arms were installed incorrectly, and the god was without his spear, which had been lost on the way from St. Louis. 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.
Then in 1936 the statue was moved to its permanent home atop Red Mountain. In 1946 the statue was used to promote road safety. A neon torch was installed in Vulcan’s hand that glowed green, except during the 24 hours following a fatal traffic accident, when it glowed red.
The statue’s naked butt has been source of humor for many years. A novelty song, “Moon Over Homewood,” written in 1981 refers to the fact that the statue “moons” the neighboring suburb of Homewood, Alabama.
Vulcan was removed in 1999 during a $14 million renovation process that saw the statue restored to its original 1938 appearance. Vulcan was placed upon his new pedestal and turned so that he is now facing in a more Eastern direction, putting an end to all of those “butt” jokes. The park officially reopened in 2004, celebrating Vulcan’s 100th birthday.