A small-town boy from east Tennessee to a turn of the century Industrialist, Theodore Swann was the epitome of a self-made man. Theodore started his career as a locomotive salesman for Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company and quickly became a rising star in the growing electric industry. In 1913, Theodore made his way to Birmingham after catching the eye of Alabama Power President, James Mitchell, who hired him to start its commercial sales department. A few years later Theodore struck out on his own. The Swann Chemical Company motto “To Find a Better Way” was the driving motivation behind his passion and curiosity throughout his life. His companies were the first to produce ferromanganese and phosphoric acid by electric furnace on an industrial scale and many of his advances in phosphates are still used today.
Theodore Swann was a captivating Gatsby-esque character who had a taste for the finer things in life. From his river house, the Black Swann, on the banks of the Cahaba to his castle on the crest of Red Mountain, Theodore did everything on the grandest scale. His wine cellar at the Black Swann was adorned with stalactites and stalagmites to resemble a cave and he recreated a Norman-style banquet hall and reassembled an actual English pub in the basement of his castle. Theodore Swann loved to entertain and when he hosted a party, he made sure it was an event his guests would never forget.
Birmingham’s history is not complete without acknowledging this pioneer in innovation and industry and it is only fitting for us to honor him by reinventing his warehouse, the Theodore, as a place for modern celebration.
Swann Chemical Laboratory
Built in 1929 by Birmingham Realty, the first tenant of the warehouse was Alabama Vinegar and Poole Company. It wasn’t until 1936 when the warehouse was expanded and remodeled for Swann & Co.’s Research Laboratory, whose offices were located in the adjoining building. In 2017, an extensive restoration of the warehouse began to breathe new life and purpose into it once again.