Rebecca Pennock Lukens
Brandywine Valley, Pa.
Iron and Steel
In 1825, widow Rebecca Pennock Lukens was pregnant with her sixth child when she purchased the remaining interest in her late father’s business, Brandywine Iron & Nail. The business was struggling at the time. Less than 10 years later, it was thriving under her leadership. In 1834, during the transportation revolution, Rebecca’s iron mill was a leader in the production of boiler plates for iron-hulled steamboats and railroads. The company also produced iron bands to make nails, barrels bands and other products. The entrepreneur also opened a store, warehouse and freight agency in 1834.
Lukens successfully steered her company through the national financial crisis known as the “Panic of 1837.” Relying on tried-and-true business principles to stay calm during the tumultuous time, she modernized her mill and refused to slash iron prices.
More than 30 years after her death, Brandywine Iron & Nail became the publicly traded Lukens Iron & Steel. The company remained listed on the New York Stock Exchange until 1998, when it was purchased by Bethlehem Steel. In 1994, Fortune posthumously crowned Lukens “America’s first female CEO of an industrial company” and named her to the National Business Hall of Fame.