Rebecca Lukens

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Rebecca Lukens
Born(1794-01-06)January 6, 1794
DiedDecember 10, 1854(1854-12-10) (aged 60)
Known forOwner and manager, Lukens Steel Company
SpouseDr. Charles Lukens

Rebecca Lukens (1794–1854), born Rebecca Webb Pennock, was an American businesswoman. She was the owner and manager of the iron and steel mill which became the Lukens Steel Company of Coatesville, Pennsylvania. Fortune Magazine called her "America's first female CEO of an industrial company" and its board of editors named her to the National Business Hall of Fame in 1994.[1]


Rebecca was the daughter of Quaker Isaac Pennock who founded the Federal Slitting Mill near Coatesville about 1793. She grew up in the business often accompanying her father in the mill. She went to boarding school first at Westtown School, a nearby Quaker Boarding school, and then at the Wilmington School for Girls in Wilmington, Delaware,[2] where among other subjects, she studied chemistry. The slitting mill processed iron from other mills into barrel hoops and nails. It was called "Federal" in honor of the new constitution. By 1824, when Isaac died, the mill was known as the Brandywine Iron Works and Nail Factory, after Brandywine Creek which provided the water power for the mill.[1]

Brandywine Mansion in 2013

She married Dr. Charles Lukens in 1813.[3] He soon entered the iron business, and together the Lukens leased the mill from her father.[3] Starting in 1816 they lived in "Brandywine Mansion," which is now located within the Lukens Historic District. Charles experimented with new products, such as rolled steel plate, in the early 1820s. The steel plate was used to construct the first metal hulled steamboat in America, the Codorus,[3] and was later used as boilerplate in steam engines and locomotives. Charles died in 1825, leaving Rebecca in charge of a company near bankruptcy.[4] An inheritance dispute and the Panic of 1837 further complicated matters.


She ran the company until 1847,[5] making it into the country's premier manufacturer of boilerplate. During her retirement she wrote an autobiography for her grandchildren.[6] In 1848, she built Terracina as a wedding present for her daughter Isabella upon her marriage to Dr. Charles Huston.[7]

She is buried in Ercildoun, south of Coatesville, in the Fallowfield Orthodox Friends Burying Ground.[8]

Legacy and honors[edit]

During World War II the Liberty ship SS Rebecca Lukens was built in Panama City, Florida, and named in her honor.[9]

On January 6, 1994, the 200th anniversary of Lukens' birth, the Pennsylvania Legislature and City of Coatesville declared her "America’s first woman industrialist."[10] The company remained independent until 1997, being ranked number 395 on the FORTUNE 500 industrial list in 1993. As of 1994 the mill was considered the oldest continuously operating steel mill in the U.S.[1] The mill is operating today under Cleveland-Cliffs. In 2020, Lukens was one of eight women featured in "The Only One in the Room" display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.[11]


In March 2015, a cache of at least ten letters were found in the walls of Brandywine Mansion.[12] The letters are awaiting study and after review will be displayed in Coatesville. They contain business correspondence from as far away as Albany, New York.[13]

Further reading[edit]

  • Boyer, Paul S.; James, Edward T.; Wilson James, Janet (2012). Notable American women, 1607-1950; a biographical dictionary. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674627345.
  • Casson, Herbert Newton (1907). The romance of steel: the story of a thousand millionaires. Barnes. pp. 377.
  • Jepson, Jill (2009). Women's concerns: twelve women entrepreneurs of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. p. 227. ISBN 978-1-4331-0423-7.
  • Smith, Richard P. (2010) Two hundred years of Rolling on the Brandywine, ArcelorMittal, Coatesville
  • History of American Women, Rebecca Lukens

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Nulty, Peter; Patty de Llosa (April 4, 1994). "The National Business Hall of Fame". Fortune. Retrieved January 28, 2011.
  2. ^ "Rebecca's Formative Years".
  3. ^ a b c Krismann, Carol (2005). Encyclopedia of American Women In Business From Colonial Times To The Present: Volume One: A-L. Greenwood Press. p. 352.
  4. ^ Gustaitis, Joseph (August 19, 1995). "Woman of Iron". American History. Retrieved January 28, 2011.
  5. ^ Much, Marilyn (31 August 2018). "America's First Female Industrialist Rebecca Lukens Was The Original Iron Lady". Investor's Business Daily.
  6. ^ From the autobiography of Rebecca Webb Pennock Lukens, Grey Stone Society, accessed January 28, 2011.
  7. ^ "National Historic Landmarks & National Register of Historic Places in Pennsylvania" (Searchable database). CRGIS: Cultural Resources Geographic Information System. Note: This includes Maureen L. Carlson (n.d.). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form: Terracina" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-11-14.
  8. ^ From Rambles: Seven scenic driving tours in and around Chester County by Stewart Huston, accessed January 28, 2011.
  9. ^ Williams, Greg H. (25 July 2014). The Liberty Ships of World War II: A Record of the 2,710 Vessels and Their Builders, Operators and Namesakes, with a History of the Jeremiah O'Brien. McFarland. ISBN 978-1476617541. Retrieved 7 December 2017.
  10. ^ McCullough, Britain (Fall 2010). "A Pennsylvania Giant: Lukens Steel". Pennsylvania Center for the Book. Retrieved June 26, 2014.
  11. ^ "Rebecca Lukens". National Museum of American History. 2020-05-11. Retrieved 2020-07-25.
  12. ^ Bond, Michaelle (14 March 2015). "200-year-old letters of steel industrialist found in mansion walls". Retrieved 2019-07-12.
  13. ^ Crimmins, Peter. "Lost letters shed light on Lukens steel from Coatesville, Pa". WHYY-FM. Newsworks. Retrieved June 9, 2017.

External links[edit]