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Bad*** Women in Business History

Everyone knows names like Oprah Winfrey and Mary Barra, but the history of entrepreneurship is built upon many names of successful businesswomen who never received the same level of fanfare and acclaim. However, it was their hard work, tenacity and determination that poured the foundation for success today. Here’s a look at five women in business you need to know more about.


Rebecca Lukens

The late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher may have been dubbed “The Iron Lady” during her time in office, but that honor more deservingly belongs to Rebecca Lukens. When her husband died in 1825, Lukens took the helm of the nearly bankrupt Drandywine Iron Works in Pennsylvania. She turned the company into one of the country’s premier ironworks manufacturers and is recognized as the America’s first female CEO of an Industrial company.


Maggie Lena Walker

At the turn of the 20th century, Maggie Lena Walker was one of the foremost female business leaders in the United States. She gained national prominence when she became the first Black woman – the first women of any race, in fact – to own a bank in the United States. Walker’s entrepreneurial skills transformed Black business practices while also inspiring other women to enter the field. By 1924, the Penny Savings Bank included more than 50,000 members in Virginia.


Olive Ann Beech

Known as the First Lady of Aviation, Olive Ann Beech was an aerospace businesswoman who served as president and chairperson of the Beech Aircraft Corp., a company she co-founded in Kansas in 1932. Beech Aircraft grew dramatically during World War II. Sales tripled under her decades in charge, and Beech Aircraft supplied products for NASA”s Gemini, Apollo and other space shuttles programs. She was the first women to win the National Aeronautic Association’s Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy.


Madam C.J. Walker

Born to parents who had been enslaved, Madam C.J. Walker became the first Black women millionaire in the United States after revolutionizing hair products specifically for Black women. Suffering from a scalp condition that caused her own hair loss, Walker created the “Walker System” of hair care, which involved a variety of techniques, preparations and homemade products that emphasized the health of the women who used them. Her reputation as an entrepreneur was only outmatched by her work as a philanthropist.


Hedy Lamarr

Enjoy watching all those cat videos on your smart device? Thank Hedy Lamarr. The actress? Yes, that Hedy Lamarr. In addition to being a silver-screen icon during the golden age of Hollywood, Lamarr was also a prolific inventor. During World War II, she designed a device aimed at blocking enemy ships from jamming torpedo guidance signals. What became known as “frequency hopping” served as the cornerstone behind some of today’s most ubiquitous technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and cellphones.