The month of March is mostly recognized as the month of Women’s History. In light of that, we will discuss Rebecca Lukens as a business woman and a local important figure.
Rebecca Lukens was born on January 6, 1794 in Marlboro, New Jersey. Her father was Isaac Pennock, a Quaker, who founded the Federal Slitting Mill near Coatesville around 1793.
Rebecca was an eager child and always willing to learn. Her father’s mill captured her interest in the business world at a young age and served as a starting point for her. Because of her family, she received a better education than most children, especially girls, during that time. During her education in Delaware, she learned sciences, French, and mathematics.
In 1810, Rebecca’s father acquired the Coates farm and converted the sawmill that was on the property to an iron works. This would be known as the Brandywine Iron Works and Nail Factory. After Rebecca met and married Dr. Charles Lukens from Philadelphia, Lukens left the medical practice and joined the family in this iron business. While Rebecca was becoming a mother, Charles helped his father- in- law by becoming a partner in the business. Rebecca would return to the business world in a few years, however.
Starting in 1816, the business was being leased to Rebecca and Charles. Together they came to the conclusion that boiler plate steel was the future they wanted to head towards. They reconstructed the mill to produce these boiler plates. Sources say that in December of 1818, the mill became the first in the United States to produce boiler plate steel. This would be considered a high quality steel.
Due to this “first”, they were brought on board to construct the first iron hauled steamboat in America in 1825. This saved the mill from bankruptcy. This was the vision Rebecca and Charles had for the mill and were excited for the opportunities to continue.
Sadly, Charles never saw this project completed due to an unexpected illness which resulted in his death. He was only 39 years old and left behind a pregnant Rebecca.
This did not stop her however. She was determined to keep the family business afloat and raise her children. Not putting her eggs in one basket, she invested in a warehouse, a saddle shop, and dwellings for her workers in the Coatesville area.
Sources say that the mill business flourished under her leadership with many calling her a genius and a savvy businesswoman. History shows that Rebecca made smart choices and stayed focused during the many hardships, tragedies, and troubles in her life.
“The First Female Industrialist” died on December 10, 1854 in her home in Brandywine Mansion. At the time of her death, she was the richest woman in Chester County.
This is a classic story of someone turning their sour lemons into lemonade. There were many times Rebecca could’ve called it quits and gave up the business when people didn’t believe in her. Instead, she believed in her own courses of action which resulted in her status today as an icon in the industrial world and is credited as the first female CEO.
Her story is inspiring since she lived during a time where women couldn’t even vote. We are happy that this Coatesville resident broke barriers and ceilings all in a time where it was deemed impossible. We hope that her story inspires all girls and women to take control of their own careers whatever it may be.