At the end of the 19th century, there was significant industrial diversification in Gijón and a great many companies such as the “La Industria” glass factory (founded in 1843), the “La Asturiana” pottery factory (1876), the Moreda y Gijón limited company iron and steel factory (1879) and the Rufino Martínez y Cía oil refinery (1890) were to continue into the next century. The increase in investment that came with the turn of the century and the revaluation of land close to the future port of El Musel were to spread the establishing of new industries to the neighbourhood of La Calzada. Hence, La Algodonera (cotton) began operating in 1899 , with the “Gijón Fabril” glass factory and Compañía Gijonesa de Hilados y Tejidos (Yarn and Fabric) being inaugurated the following year and Fábrica de Sombreros del Crédito Industrial Gijonés (Hats), among others, in 1901. With all this industrial variety, the sea and navigation trade constituted one of the most relevant activities, giving rise to a large sector of commercial bourgeoisie in Gijón that formed the base for the formation of a well-off class that was to give the city not only industrial equipment and facilities but also new public and leisure areas.
Industrial diversification and the Spanish-American capital
By the early 1880s, the three steamship owners had a total of 19 ships weighing in at a combined 8,800 tons and, by 1898, four of the five Asturian shipping companies were based in Gijón. Sea traffic was intense and several steamship lines had regular services established from Gijón to domestic and foreign ports such as Marseilles, Liverpool, Amberes or Bremen.
A long list of brokers, commission agents, customs agents and ship owners grew under this dynamic naval and port activity and, by 1899, there were 12 customs agents, 16 commission agents and 17 ship owners. This growth led to 27 ship owners, 18 brokers, 45 commission agents and 9 customs agents by 1904. The increase in coal traffic and the opening of El Musel promoted the establishing of modern docks and shipyards to repair and build ships on the coastal side of the Concha de Gijón beach. In 1902, Sociedad Riera, Menéndez y Cía. founded a shipyard in La Calzada and, in 1906, Sociedad Astilleros de Cantábrico founded another in El Natahoyo, next to the Fomento quays. Five years later, Constructora Gijonesa inaugurated a new shipyard close to Coroña point, now occupied by the Izar shipyard.
The importance of trade and industry in the “Town of Jovellanos” led to the establishing of a branch of the Bank of Spain in Gijón in 1884 and, shortly afterwards, the confluence of interests allowed for the parallel creation and development of local banks. Hence, on 20th October 1899, the Bank of Gijón was created when Casa de Banca Florencio Rodríguez, founded by its owner of the same name on his return from Cuba in 1894, was transformed into a joint stock corporation. The bank was based on the fortunes from overseas, controlled at both chair and board level by those with businesses on each side of the Atlantic.
A special case among Asturian banks was that of Crédito Industrial Gijonés, which was created in 1900 and, despite its short existence, became the most dynamic and innovative industry-promoting company in Asturias. It was created as the visible head of a diversified industrial and trade complex structured around the port of Gijón as the point of destination and redistribution of regional coal production. Technically designed and managed by Luis Adaro Magro, it was made up of foreign and Basque investors and leading Asturian industrialists and traders such as Luis Belaunde, Antonio Velázquez Duro, Casimiro Velasco Heredia and Zoilo Alvargonzález.
Even with the influence of investment following the repatriation of Spanish-American capital, the regional economy entered a stage of slow growth. The Region Exhibition in Gijón in summer 1899 was the ideal opportunity to present the importance of the regional trade and industrial development to the Asturian public. In 1904, Gijón had 148 manufacturing facilities, many of which were unable to defy the subsequent crisis and were forced to close down.