THE IRON & STEEL INSTITUTE. Bilbao Meeting, 1928.

Ferrería de Lebario. Exterior. Meeting book, 1928. / Joaquín Cárcamo collection.




Apart from its present and obvious progress, the ancient traditions of the Vizcaya iron and steel industry should be sufficient to guide the Iron and Steel Institute once again along the ways opened up by those who carried in ancient days iron, and later iron ore, between Vizcaya and England.

It is a fact the iron obtained from our ores in this country, wrote the first page in European history of Iron and Steel. In 1758 B. C. the Basque warriors wore weapons made of iron obtained from our ores in the classical «ferrerias» which also provided the arms of the invaders of the countries, whose conquest was the glory of Spain, viz: Flanders, Sicily, America, etc. France and England also received this iron and in the latter country they gave the name of bilboa to some special iron exported from Bilbao, by the Calibe or Nervion river, as it was named in remembrance of the Calibe tribe in Asia Minor, (in the southern región of the Caucasus) who taught the Greeks the manufacture of steel, or Calibs (son of Mars) as it was named.

Ferrería de Lebario. Power. Meeting book, 1928. / Joaquín Cárcamo collection.


Iberia, bordering on Colchis, in the southern slopes of the Caucasus, took possession of our land, originated our race and taught us the art of extracting the iron from the ore. This enabled our country to be the first on the European Continent to make use of the extraction iron ore, which was mentioned by Pliny in 71 A. D. in his Natural History dedicated to Titus, where he says: «The most abundant ore of any metal known in Europe is iron; on the Cantabrian Coasts, washed by the ocean there is a high and steep mountain entirely composed of this material»; in this quotation he referred to the Somorrostro ore, the vena~dulce from Tria­no. This was confirmed by Mr. Bowles and Dr. A. E. Brehem, in their Natural History.

Ferrería de Lebario. Soplante. Meeting book, 1928. / Joaquín Cárcamo collection.


When the Kings of Spain, who were lords of Vizcaya, with the agreement of the Juntas de Guernica (Vizcaya), revoked the «Fuero» (a set of láws ruling Basque life, established and maintained under the shadow of the sacred Guernica tree, the witness of our freedom) which prohibited the exportation of ore from our mountains, it was shipped in great quantities to England in order to supply the blast furnaces erected in that country in about the middle of the XVth century for the production of pig iron.

Meanwhile, our «ferrerías» were being improved to supply iron to Spain and its vast dominions, and rose to such importance that in 1550 there were 300 «ferrerías» in Vizcaya and Guipúzcoa with a total production of 21.000 tons of iron. In 1784 Vizcaya had 141 «ferrerías» with an approximate output of 5.760 to 6.480 tons per year, and this on account of the poor water supply from the rivers during the summer and the scarcity of charcoal owing the encreasing impor­tance of the arable land over woodlands.

Ferrería de Lebario. Fragua. Meeting book, 1928. / Joaquín Cárcamo collection.

Of all these «ferrerías» the most com­plete specimen existing today is the Lebario in Abadiano (Vizcaya), some 40 kilometers from Bilbao. One can still see the wooden bellows or «bar­quines» for blowing the hearth where the incandescent mass of coal and ore was placed; the «martinete» where the semi-molten mass was beaten to obtain the drawn iron intended for the market. All this machinery was driven by two wooden wheels which on the impact of water carried through a canal, put into motion a set of balance-beams made of thick pieces of wood; the noisy operation of these contrivances was carefully superintended by the «tirador» who directed the work of the two smelters as well as the man who drumbled the calcinated ore.

The «ferrerías» treated masses of 10 to 15 kgs. at the beginning and from 150 to 200 later; they were working even after the appearance of the first blast furnace, as forging hammers for the manufacture of frying-pan handles and ploughshares, principally made from blooms obtained by soldering scrap iron (chatarra). The «ferrerías» were undoubtedly the origin of the pre­sent development of our iron and steel industry.

Ferrería de Lebario. Martinete. Meeting book, 1928. / Joaquín Cárcamo collection.

In 1843 the first charcoal blast fur­nace made its appearance at the Works of «Santa Ana de Bolueta» situated in Bolueta (Vizcaya) near Bilbao, and with it, but later on, carne the «pudelaje» (puddling) invented by Mr. Henry Cort and shape rolling. This furnace was followed by a new one erected in Guriezo (Santander) by Messrs. Ibarra, of Viz­caya, in 1847, with its own puddling and rolling equipment; this furnace was the forerunner of the «Nuestra Señora del Carmen» plant belonging to this firm; situated in Baracaldo (Vizcaya) on the banks of the Nervión and Galin­do rivers, with charcoal blast furnaces, Chenot furnaces, rolling plant, etc., in 1854. Soon afterwards, in 1870, they installed two coke blast furnaces (of English manufacture) with a corresponding set of puddling furnaces, this firm becoming in 1902 Altos Hornos de Vizcaya, S. A. by amalgamation with «La Vizcaya» works, a new plant ins­talled in 1882. The principal promotor of the latter was the illustrious «vizcaí­no» D. Víctor Chávarri y Salazar, to whose initiative and energy the iron and steel industry of this country is so greatly indebted.

Just as the first charcoal blast furnace was the origin of the present siderurgic plant of Altos Hornos de Vizcaya, the old «ferrería» of Astepe, in Amorebieta (Vizcaya) belonging to Messrs. Jáuregui, was the precursor of the present works «La Purísima Con­cepción» belonging to the same firm, which together with S. A. «Santa Ana de Bolueta», now reorganized, can claim an honourable past.

The prehistoric «ferrería» and the charcoal blast furnace have therefore been, after successive transformations and enlargements, the means of bringing our hematite pig iron into notice in the English, French, Italian and Ger­mán markets where «Altos Hornos de Vizcaya» have exported this material; they have also been the cause of the progress which, exemplified in several plants, the members of the Iron and Steel Institute will have an opportunity of appreciating during their visit.

Book cover.  The Iron & Steel Institute Meeting. / Joaquín Cárcamo collection.


To the plants of «Altos Hornos de Vizcaya», «S. A. Echevarría», «Com­pañía Anónima Basconia», «Compañía Euskalduna», «Talleres de Deusto», «S. A. Santa Ana de Bolueta», «La Pu­rísima Concepción» de Astepe, situated in Vizcaya, we must add the mos modern, the «Compañía Siderúrgica del Mediterráneo», founded in Sagunto (Valencia) by the Biscayan industrialists Sir Ramón de la Sota and D. Luis Aznar; moreover, we should also include the works in the Biscay-Navarre country «Fábrica de Vagones de Beasain», «Altos Hornos de Vergara», (of the «S. A. Unión Cerrajera»), «San Pe­dro de Elgóibar» (all of them in Gui­púzcoa); the works at Vera (Navarra) in Álava owned by Messrs. Ajuria, which together with those scattered over the rest of Spain, such as Reinosa, (belonging to the Sociedad Española de Cons­trucción Naval) and «Nueva Montaña» in the province of Santander; «Moreda y Gijón» («S. A. Industrial Asturiana») «Fábrica de Mieres», S. A. «Duro Felgüera» and Trubia (owned by the Go-vernment) in Asturias, and several ones of less importance in Cataluña: «Ma­terial para Ferrocarriles y Construc­ciones, S. A.» «Industrias Mecánicas, S. A.», «Talleres y Construcciones To­rras», constitute our Spanish contribution to iron and steel manufacture.

The exploitation of our mines is carried on by means of power excavators, modern washing plants and aerial and railway transports. All this, together with the kilns for the calcination of car­bonates, will give you an idea of the actual position of our iron and steel industry.

The principal ore deposits actually supplying our iron and steel industry are the following mines: «Sierra Menera», in Almería; «San Luis», «Abando­nada», «Malaespera», «Montefuerte», «El Morro», etc., in the neighbourhood of Bilbao, and the mines «Elvira» and «Parcocha» together with the mines owned by the «Orconera Iron Ore Co. Ltd.», «Sorpresa», etc., etc., in the zone of Triano and Somorrostro, the mines of Sopuerta and Galdames and «Dícido» and «Setares» in the boundary of Vizcaya and Santander.

Bizkaia, Basque Country