The first recorded record of the manufacture of fire arms in Eibar and the Basque lands dates from 1482. The document mentions a batch of two lombards manufactured in Eibar by order of the Duke of Medina Sidonia. As an anecdote it remains to say that the transfer of these cannons from Eibar to the mouth of the Deba, was made by means of eighty pairs of oxen. This data is significant since it shows that the production of guns was prior to this date.
Throughout the 17th century the industry grew considerably. The wars and the orders of the nobles made the arm artisans work non-stop. In 1735, the Royal Guipuzcoan Company of Caracas intervened in the armory sector and took over the responsibility of this industry with respect to its production and its guild system, established centuries before. Cashiers, key-ringers, cannoneers and riggers represented the four guilds that formed the backbone of this production. They were under the tutelage of the Company, which on the one hand fixed all the prices and wages (sometimes without being well accepted) but with the salaries assured .
However, there came a time when the Company could not support the weight of the guilds and went bankrupt and was taken over by the Philippine Company. Although the latter’s attempts at the beginning were efficient, it did not take long to reach the same end as its predecessor and it was in 1865 when the guilds definitively disappeared, giving way to the capitalist system. In addition, manufacturing techniques were revolutionized due to technological advances and new percussion systems appeared. The flintlock was replaced by the piston, the appearance of smokeless gunpowder allowed the development of semi-automatic and automatic mechanisms that revolutionized the armory, and thus repeating weapons became widespread after the invention of the revolver.
This step is crucial since for the first time the workshops owned by the entrepreneurs and the market competition between them appear. Thus, the firms “Orbea Hermanos”, “Larrañaga”, “Anitua y Charola”, “Gárate y Anitua”… appear in Eibar. In Placencia-Soraluze “Euscalduna” is one of the most outstanding.
In an electoral census of the beginning of the 20th century these data are observed: Eibar had 1,149 gunsmiths; Placencia-Soraluze with 257 and Elgoibar with 103.
The free market was gradually imposed and some manufacturers began to offer more advantageous prices for the government, which had repercussions on themselves. And it was in 1900 when Eibar stood out among the rest of the towns and its industrial career rose vertiginously.
As we can see in the following data, the manufacture of guns skyrockets:
in 1887, 130,000 pieces were manufactured.
in 1900, 200,000 pieces
in 1908, 484,000 pieces
First world war
The First World War (1914-1919) brought a large number of orders and at its end Eibar experienced one of the strongest crises. Stored stocks that could not be sold, American tariffs that prevented the exportation of Eibar arms to the United States and the non-officiality in the testing of our arms compared to other European countries, made the sale more and more difficult, creating a great competition in the markets.
This situation led to the search for new elements taking advantage of the armorer’s technology. This is the period of the reconversion. Thus, companies such as “Gárate, Anitua y Cía”, “Beistegui Hermanos” and “Orbea Hermanos”, went from manufacturing short arms to the production of bicycles. Other companies such as “Alfa” preferred to adjust to the sewing machine and “Olave, Solozabal y Cía” turned to office material. It can be said that this is the maximum example of survival and industrial transformation that this locality has given in the face of adversities.
The diversification of products produced from the 50’s onwards are the reference of the enterprising and dynamic character of Eibar.
On the other hand, this industry has suffered several crises from which it has always been decimated but not annihilated. Towards the 80’s, the iron and steel crisis that hit the whole sector also had a negative effect on the arms industry. Some of the companies unified to form a reconverted group, but that failed and a decade later the period of recovery and reestablishment began.
Today this sector is very small in number, although its production includes luxury hunting weapons. The pieces manufactured annually are scarce but their quality is excellent.
It is noteworthy that even after five centuries have passed since the first news of manufacture, the handmade gun production system remains almost intact if it were not for the mechanization phases. The rest is still made by hand, with each individual respecting his or her specialty as a cannoneer, breech maker, tipper and assembler.