Santa Ana de Bolueta history

SANTA ANA DE BOLUETA. Founded in 1841


The first and the last deed sheet of the building of Bolueta’s foundry, granted in Ascao on July 12, 1459.


Santa Ana de Bolueta is one of the flagship companies of the early industrialization in Biscay. Founded in 1841, the year of transfer of the customs to the coast (date also significant in the process of transformation and abolition of the traditional statutory), supposed the step of the foundry to the modern siderurgy. And its long survival to the present (2007), supporting in addition the same features, the specific company culture, it does of her a special case.

The origins and early years of the factory

The origin of the company when a new era dawned with the emergence and rise of new political and social realities and new values ​​related to the liberalism and the romanticism, was in the project of a dozen of important business men of Bilbao to mount a factory for “throwing irons.” To this end, they bought the land of an entailed estate founded in 1479 by Isabel the Catholic, whose ownership had relapsed in 1825, into the Count of Santa Coloma (Juan Bautista de Queralt and Silva, Sevillian aristocrat, born in 1814, who resided in Madrid, Carlist) and that would definitely detached in 1836. They were well placed with regard to the road links (Camino Real, towards Pancorbo, and Durango’s way), in the neighbourhood of Bolueta, Begoña Township (1,800 inhabitants), located just under a mile of Bilbao ( about 15,000 inhabitants in 1840) and which would be incorporated in Bilbao in 1924. During the First Carlist War, the facilities of primogeniture (including: Hermitage, foundry, quarry, mills and, above all, the house-palace), were used by Zumalacarregui in the days when he was mortally wounded, in the site of Bilbao, and were devastated by the Liberals after their uprising.

Bolueta promoters (Joaquin de Mazas and Romualdo de Arellano, who bought the land; Pascual de Olábarri, Joaquín Marco, Manuel Saint Supery, Juan Bautista de Maguregui, José Salvador de Lequerica, Tomás José de Epalza, Pablo de Epalza and his commercial reason and Antonio de Ogara), whom Angel Martinez joined (the administrator of the Count of Santa Coloma who addressed the aforementioned purchase-sale), were all merchants, and some of them bankers and large landowners, some of them were also among the main potentates of the town and had held positions in their institutions of government; were related by links of business and, in several cases of kinship; they would demonstrate inclined, from another point of view, to the statutory conservatism (though the near ones the progressism were not absent, as Lequerica) and, in the following decades, several of them would participate in some of the major economic initiatives undertaken in Biscay mid-nineteenth century (Banco de Bilbao, Tudela-Bilbao Railway, General Credit Bilbaína Company …).

Between May and June 1841,before therefore the transfer of the customs to the coast, in October of that same year- they launched the company with Sociedad Anónima Santa Ana de Bolueta (scheduled for nine years), with the idea not so much of ​​reconstructing the old foundry but to raise a factory for the production of hardware (“iron square, round, wheels, strips, plates or other forms”, as announced in early 1844) in a manufacturing plant, ambitious for the time, which, in line with the modern steel industry then flourishing in Malaga and Seville and following the model of the first industrial revolution in continental Europe, it was working in the second merger acquiring ingot of iron of the British market. The transfer of customs and tariff application again in 1841 (considered, sometimes inappropriately, origin of the company) would come to give, however, a new framework and a new incentive to a business project that was born before the above mentioned measure.

Under the management, mainly, of Joaquin Mazas, alma mater of Santa Ana in the early days, and the Industrial Management from Saint Supery, was set up the manufacturing plant, with English, Belgian and French machinery, and with the hydraulic driving force produced by the near dam which through a canal system, was conducted within the factory, to the hammer and rolling mills. At he end of 1843, it started producing elaborated irons in the second merger, acquiring cast-iron ingot, British or mainly local, which was overheated in reverberatory furnaces (the factory was equipped with four ovens pudler, increased soon in other four), with Asturian charcoal, and one was working with hammer and rolling mills (large and small) that, together with other machinery, were moved by three hydraulic wheels. In 1844, there was about 60 workers and produced an average of 200 hundredweight of iron per day, in various forms (including, for example, the metallic elements of the Arenal Bridge, built in the mid-1840s, and later known as the Isabel II Bridge).

In 1846, with the reduction of iron in the finished products and the rising price of the English ingot, among other factors, it was decided to build a blast furnace to work in the first merger. The furnace (one of the most modern in the Spanish and emblematic of the industrial history of Biscay, as the first one of this territory in working to full performance, though already other facilities had started in this type in Alava and Navarre), of charcoal, 10 meters high and a diameter of eight feet in its womb, began operating in 1848. Its commissioning was accompanied by the purchase of land in Mount Ollargan, in which there was annotated half-dozen of mines of iron (red erythrocytes particularly suitable for fusion with charcoal), 500 meters from the factory, which would be exploited until 1971. Therefore Santa Ana left the second merger of ingot and focused on the iron production of the country. In the following years in the decade of 1850, Santa Ana built two new blast furnaces. Around 1860, had nearly 200 employees and a first house was constructed for them.


In the pictures we see Jose Maria Olábarri, company promoter partner, with the factory behind, an Interpretation of the factory by Agustin Ibarrola Bolueta, furnace of Santa Ana de Bolueta and the existing facilities.


The reorganization of the company in the mid-nineteenth century

Between late 1840 and early 1850, several factors such as the disagreements among members for the high cost of investment (the original planned 800,000 réeais had become 2 million in late 1843, and then would come the innovations reported) or the role of the Industrial Director (which was replaced by Eduardo Heckman) and new legislation on limited companies, led to a reorganization of the company.

Shareholding reorganization, first of all: after leaving it de Marco, Maguregui, Lequerica and the widow of Angel Martinez, who sold their shares, a new division shareholder left the company, from 1851, in hands of seven owner families (with the 15% each, except for one of them): Joaquin de Mazas, Romualdo de Arellano, Pascual de Olábarri, Tomás José de Epalza, Pablo de Epalza, the Uribarren (Jose Javier and Fabian, who had entered in 1844, representing Aguirrebengoa House and Uribarren,, who acquired the interest of Joaquín Marco) and Antonio de Ogara (with 10%). Reorganization also legal: in liquidation in 1848, as required by law (in a prosperous phase from the point of view of productive activity), the company was refounded in 1861 as a limited partnership Socios de Bolueta. Later, it would be reconstituted in 1880 under the name Mazas and Company, Socios Bolueta; and definitely reorganized in 1886, after the entry into force of the new Code of Commerce previous year, as a joint-stock company, recovering the original character as well as his first name Santa Ana de Bolueta.

These seven owner families since1851 are the ones that have been perpetuated for over 150 years, with the logical generational changes (a first generation replacement occurred between 1860 and 1870, leaving Romualdo de Arellano and Pascual Olábarri as the strong men of the company, a new generation change took place between the Great War and the early 1930’s, kept these names as major shareholders and gave the presidency to Luis Maria Olábarri, and a new renewal generation began in the year 1960) and some incorporation in the years 1920 (Luis Beraza, manager since 1924, soon got a block of shares). The continuity in the ownership of the company of the mentioned families reaffirmed a sense of it, which is one of the features of its own corporate culture. This character of family firm (rather than family business) has maintained, on the other hand, as a medium-sized company that has not required a large external financing, which had forced to seek partners from outside the founding families, and that, though there have been financial problems, was able to face them with loans granted by some owners or financial institutions, particularly the Bank of Bilbao, whose directors were also shareholders of Santa Ana, or had largely, kinship and friendship with those. Therefore, the economic nature linked to a few families (which also explains the absence of explicit conflict among its members) and the participation in other companies in their environment or network of kinship and the friendship established among their shareholders, seems to be one of the factors that explain the longevity of the company.

Along with the continuity of assets, is the continuity of a model in which ownership and management agreed. Although it was professionalized (through positions such as Industrial Director, Engineering Director, Managing Director, Manager …, they have played, besides the two already mentioned, Justin Delpon, Torcuato Barandica, Manuel Beltrán de Heredia, Pedro de Avendaño, Silvestre Echevarria or the mentioned Luis Beraza, among the most significant), the broad functions of the President (similar to a modern manager), the condition for the Industrial Manager to be shareholder or, in the twentieth century, the manager, Beraza also alma mater of the company until his death in 1952), the integration and the role of the responsible management, together with the financial partners, in a Board of Managers, Meeting Board or Board of Directors (depending on the period) and the fact that they have found the right people in the owning families and capable of managing the company, pointed to that management model, which is another feature of the identity of Santa Ana.

The company as part of the industrialization of Biscay: industrial strategies

Throughout its history, Santa Ana de Bolueta has had to cope with the circumstances and difficulties that each time has raised, among them, of course, new productive and competitive conditions that have been submitted from mid-nineteenth century, first with the establishment of the factory of Carmen and other manufacturing establishments, then with the Biscayne industrialization of the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and, later, with the development of the years after the Great War or the characteristic of the 1960’s. It has therefore adopted different strategies.

Since then, including technological modernization, which, to cite only a few landmarks, led it between the 1870 and 1890, to turn off the first two blast furnaces of the factory and to renew the third one and build a fourth one, which would work until 1920, to build around the turn of the century, a Martin-Siemens furnace, and around 1910, a new furnace pudler, and electrify the machinery of the company, at the juncture of benefits, but also difficulties for the acquisition of iron ore and charcoal shortages linked to World War I, and modernizing the equipment and facilities during the twentieth century consistently and parallel to the technological progress of this century.

The expansion of land and adequacy of facilities: Santa Ana came to occupy in the middle of 1880, an area close to the 20,000 square meters, of which more than 9,000 corresponded to buildings (Altos Hornos de Bilbao came at the time to the 14,500 square meters built) and its facilities, around 1900, including rolling mills, blast furnaces, puddling furnaces, steel furnace, foundries, Electra, bunkers, store, houses like the Rio’s, Zabálburu’s, Parras’, hermitage, Cooperative … among others. Its residence housing for workers stayed in the late nineteenth century, 60 tenants, making it Santa Ana to be the first urban owner, of Begoña in 1912, it had three houses for workers, with 44 rooms, and after the civil war, undertook the construction of new social housing in partnership with Foundry Bolueta.

Other strategies have been the participation in the associative initiatives of the Biscayan business community and in gentlementagreements trying to distribute the iron and steel market, and the procurement and supply contracts, or leasing of material ressources (mines Ollargan, Martin-Siemens furnace …), with the big metallurgical ones of his environment, sometimes facilitated by the existing bows of kinship and friendship between the owners and also members of Santa Ana in a network that, beside facilitating the mercantile relations between them, it has allowed Santa Ana managers to have valuable information in order to decide the most appropriate marketing strategy at all times.

But, especially, Santa Ana adopted strategies to diversify the profitable activities on the one hand, and, on the other hand, to conform to the demand, looking for market niches that would ensure the survival of the company. Two strategies that have been facilitated by the flexibility that has characterized the company for its medium sized and for their family links and relationships with the business world in its environment that has been derived from it.

Diversification of activities

The diversification of profitable activities led Santa Ana in the last years of the nineteenth century, in the context of the proliferation of initiatives aimed at producing electricity for public lighting to install a production of electricity for the concert of the factory (modernizing the system of lighting to gas), but also for private consumption of the residents of Begoña and Bilbao. The success of the installation, commissioning in 1896, and the increased demand encouraged new investments to increase the production capacity of Electra Bolueta, who affirmed progressively its autonomy with regard to the factory, and became one of the most profitable and lucrative activities of the company. The process of monopolization that experienced the electrical sector explains that the Electra was transferred in 1908 to Union Electric Biscayne, which in turn would join Iberian Hydroelectrics in 1933, companies in which Santa Ana had shares which allowed to participate indirectly in the electricity business. The Electra continued working until mid-1960, helping to satisfy the energy needs of Santa Ana and Bolueta Foundry, and it was recovered in an economic, legal and technological frame completely different, in 2000.

The policy of diversification of activities is also highlighted, after the Civil War, with the establishment of an agricultural farm, to mitigate the problems of food supply in the post war years (his enormous porks would triumph on the Christmas market of Santo Tomás), putting into operation some areas of the company, and remaining until the 1960’s. Also, during those years, Santa Ana created in 1941, one medical and pharmaceutical assistance company and in 1943, a nursery for the children of workers and employees.

The search of new markets

The search for market niches geared to Santa Ana to specialize in one type of iron work and nail, elaborated in a workshop of forge, to the charcoal, which appeared in exhibitions such as in Bayonne 1864 and Paris 1878, in which won medals of bronze. In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the company (whose shareholding structure and economic nature did not allow the major investment of new large steel mills, whose production systems, plant and blast furnaces to pudler were insufficient or outdated, and could not rather than compete in quality or in productions that were not profitable to the new steel mills) gradually replaced the manufacture of iron and nails by the charcoal-ingot and foundry work (columns, balusters, wheels, figures, fences, signs, streetlights , banks, pipes …), products for which they received the Gold Medal at the Universal Exposition of Barcelona in 1888, and compared with the coke iron or special steel, retained its customer, military construction, the machine Catalan or industry tool dealer (whose crisis in Gipuzkoa after the Great War would affect Santa Ana) or the Catalan tool or machine. To that business strategy also obey, in 1920, two initiatives: the manufacture of forged steel balls for cement mills, Santa Ana began the production in 1927, an initiative at first marginal for the company, but that would confirm progressively until being the production which, consolidated after the civil war, which has remained and prospered to help ensure the survival of Santa Ana and the constitution with Bolueta Foundry in 1928 as a subsidiary of Santa Ana, to manufacture and exploit capital goods for the iron and steel industry (large rolling cylinder , turbines, pistons …) using procedures and in collaboration with the Belgian firms Safak and Griffin which had them patented. The growing autonomy of Foundry Bolueta respect to the parent company would culminate in early 1970.

Civil War in the early twenty-first century

After the civil war, which affected the company not only in the economic sphere (among other consequences, the president of the company, Luis Maria Olábarri recognized monarchy, could not prevent the temporary exile of his wife, daughter of meaning Basque nationalist Ramon de la Sota Llano, with their young children), while maintaining the features of its historical, Santa Ana stressed its projection beyond the Basque Country with the participation, among other initiatives, in the Catalan company Construcciones Desmontables (dedicated to construction and renting of mechanical tubes scaffolds), which would leave in 1960, and in the homonym Santa Ana in Cuenca.

Under the new conditions and historical realities that emerge from the years 1960 (from the labour point of view, economic, financial, urban, etc.., Even for Santa Ana, from a symbolic point of view: in 1964 it was suspended the celebration of the employer holiday of the company, breaking a tradition over a century), Santa Ana de Bolueta came with a new generation change, a new phase, which has continued, however, its long historical path. Based mainly in the manufacture of balls (at its plants in Bilbao, Seville and Santiago de Chile) for the mining and cement generally booming, which has enabled its international projection since the last decades of the twentieth century ( besides manufacturing materials, for example, for the AVE Atocha’s railway station or subway extensions in Madrid, or the tram in Valencia ), and in its share portfolio (for its shares in the electricity sector and Foundry Bolueta ), has maintained the features of its long life and business culture:its heritage linked to a few families, the close link between ownership and management, the integration of the employees and workers in the company “idea” of Santa Ana, at least until the last decades of the twentieth century; the search for new niche markets (particularly in the international market) as well as new productions (for which new branches have been established such as Sociedad Santa Ana de Bolueta de Imanes Industriales, Forjas del Guadalquivir in Seville, Aceros Santa Ana de Bolueta Chile, Santa Ana de Bolueta Abrasion, Ingeniería de Vías Elásticas, which form in the early years of this century the business group that has become Santa Ana de Bolueta) and new activities (in 2000, a renewed installation was inagurated for the production of electricity again). This has allowed to continue rising from difficult times, such as those generated by the 1983 floods, which forced to rebuild the industrial site.

In the first decade of the 21st century it has continued its international expansion more focused in the mining sector. In 2008 the company partnered with Dutch Edilon-Serra to launch a new company, Edilon-Serra Ibérica SL which owns 38% of the capital to expand its marketing business for the commercialization of elastic lines railway to new markets as the South American.

The new uses of the old industrial land have led to the abandonment of its old facilities closed to the river Ibaizabal, the historic site, moving to a new plant in Abanto and Ziérbana inaugurated in June 2011. This new plant expands and enhances its production capacity but also connects with the past mining and steel sectors of the company for being located between the shaft of the old mine Bodovalle and the Gallarta Mining Museum. As a sample of the extension of the activities that has supposed this new plant is that in less than a year after its inauguration it was necessary to expand its attached park to store its production.

In January 2012, Santa Ana de Bolueta signed an agreement with the Chilean group Sigdo Koppers (SK) to form a new company (SK SABO Chile, which owns 45% of the capital) in order to build a new plant in Chile for manufacturing forged balls with an estimated production of 130,000 tons / year.


  • SANTA ANA DE BOLUETA. Santa Ana de Bolueta. Centenary of his foundation.
  • 8th June1841- 8th June 1941. Bilbao: Santa Ana de Bolueta, 1941.
  • ALONSO OLEA, Eduardo J., ERRO GASCA, Carmen, ARANA PEREZ, Ignacio. Santa Ana de Bolueta, 1841-1998. Renovation and survival in the Biscayan siderurgy. Bilbao: Santa Ana de Bolueta, 1998.
  • ALONSO OLEA, Eduardo J. La Electra de Bolueta. A centenary history (1896-2000). Bilbao: Santa Ana de Bolueta, 2000.
  • ALONSO OLEA, Eduardo J. “Santa Ana de Bolueta: a job culture. 1841-1998.” Vasconia. History-Geography note- books, no. 30 (2000): 5-35.
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  • ARANA PEREZ, Ignacio. “Santa Ana de Bolueta”. Encyclopedia Auñamendi, 2008. (


c/ Telleria, 1. 48004 Bilbao
Bizkaia (Spain)

Tel.: (+34) 94 412 29 99

Auxiliary Industry

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Bizkaia (Spain)

Tel.: (+34) 94 412 27 93

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