Pedro Duro Benito (1810–86)

Asturias in the north of Spain had a small-scale iron industry in the eighteenth century. However, it had no large blast furnaces to make cast iron or works to manufacture wrought-iron until the investments of Pedro Benito Duro. In the mid-nineteenth century he constructed a large ironworks at La Felguera (now part of the city of Langreo) in the Nalón valley, south-east of Oviedo.

Duro grew up in the mountain village of Brieva de Cameros in the Rioja region of north-east Spain. He trained in commerce in Madrid and worked at the stock exchange. When the Spanish Railway Act passed in 1855, he realised there would be demand for iron and it could be the foundation for Spanish industrialization. At the age of 45 he determined to become an industrialist. In Madrid, he sought investment money aided by the Marquis of Camposgrado and the former Minister of Finance, the Marquis of Pindal. He began to look for a suitable location to open an ironworks, with advice from the military engineer Francisco Antonio Elorza.

Asturias had a rich coalfield, iron-ore mines at Langreo and Laviana and the newly built Langreo railway (opened in 1853) to the coast at Gijón. There was a new iron forge at Vega, built in 1856 by Gil and Company. However, the area was almost completely rural - Duro named his works Fábrica de La Felguera after the ‘place of ferns’. Construction started in 1857 and the first pig iron was produced in the New Year of 1860. Duro collaborated with Gil to create the Sociedá Metalúrxica de Llangréu. He expanded with a second site in 1864 and later leased the Gil ironworks. He bought a steamship to transport his products. In 1868, he built a rail mill to supply the construction of the Noroeste railway in Asturias and Galicia. By this time the works produced large quantities of pig iron, bar iron and wrought-iron sheets and rails.

A town grew up around the works and many other industries were attracted to the area. Duro developed a social protection system for his staff and provided schools and workers’ housing. The company made steel after 1880, using the Bessemer Converter. Duro died in 1886. In 1900 the factory became a public company, Sociedad Metalúrgica Duro-Felguera SA, and in 1902 it began to be listed on the stock exchange. The steelworks was closed in the 1980s but its name continues in the company Duro Felguera SA. Many buildings survive and some are included in the Asturian Museum of the Steel Industry.