Few of today’s companies can claim to have witnessed the election and assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the invention of the light bulb, a World Series win for the Chicago Cubs, and the beginning and end of the Great Depression. Through it all, A. Lucas and Sons-the oldest manufacturing business in Peoria and one of the oldest steel fabricators in the country-has kept its doors open every working day since 1857.
After immigrating to the United States from Germany, Adam Lucas originally started working in Peoria as a safe and lock-maker. Before long, his skill in ironworking led others to call upon him to fashion many items other than his typical line of safes and vaults. After the Civil War, when iron and steel beams became increasingly popular as construction materials, he entered the steel fabrication business, and eventually the company evolved into a full-service ironworks.
In its early days, many of the employees were German immigrants-skilled workers who could not always speak English-but the language barrier was not a problem at A. Lucas and Sons, where they were treated like family. Adam’s son, Hugo Lucas, kept the business running throughout the Depression so hurting workers could continue to provide for their loved ones. He was an active member of the community and grew the company into a significant player in the early industrial development of Peoria.
Hugo’s daughter, Marie, and her husband, Stearn Lohnes, learned from Hugo how to treat employees and carried that tradition forward. Lohnes guaranteed all workers jobs when they returned home from World War II, as well as stipends to live on until their first paycheck was received. And the company continued to expand.
When Marie and Stearn Lohnes passed away in the early 1980s, there were no heirs, so longtime employee John Hanley stepped in, purchased the company and became the fourth president of A. Lucas and Sons. His wife, Shirley, then became vice president and secretary. Because of the goodwill and solid reputation the Lucas family had built up over the years, Hanley decided to keep the Lucas name-as well as the company’s values. When his daughter, Margaret, inquired about the future of the family business, he told her he wanted to keep the company going for his workers and loyal customer base.
In 2005, Margaret was appointed company president, the second generation of Hanleys to run the longtime family business. According to her, it was challenging at first, because many of the workers had known her since she was a child. Now, she would be running the business, “but they had enough faith and trust in my father-that he would never have put me in that position if he didn’t believe I could succeed.”
Today, Hanley maintains the company’s tradition of goodwill towards its workers and the community. “That’s how A. Lucas got started and grew-they relied on each other to work hard and do the right thing, and success will follow…That’s still our philosophy,” she says. For her, the business is about family. “It’s a small-family company-the people are like my brothers and sisters.” Two families and 152 years later, A. Lucas and Sons continues to play an important role in the progress of Peoria. iBi