Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich, a U.S. representative and senator from Rhode Island, defended business interests throughout his political career. Born in Foster, Rhode Island, Aldrich was elected as a Republican to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1878 and entered the U.S. Senate in 1881. In the late 1890s, Aldrich assumed a key role as one of "The Senate Four"Aldrich, William Allison of Iowa, Orville Platt of Connecticut, and John Spooner of Wisconsinwho dominated the Senate for a decade.
As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Aldrich presided over tariff legislation at a time when tariffs provided the federal government's principal source of income. He coauthored the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act of 1909, which raised tariff rates on many imports and stirred protests from progressive reformers. In the wake of the Panic of 1907, he sponsored the Aldrich-Vreeland Act, permitting the U.S. Treasury to lend currency to banks during fiscal crises.
In his final Senate years, Aldrich chaired the National Monetary Commission. His Aldrich Plan, providing for flexible cash reserves, was the forerunner of the Federal Reserve System. A powerful floor leader, Aldrich played a major part in shaping the legislative programs of the administrations of both Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.
After serving in the Senate from 1881 until 1911, Aldrich retired to Providence, Rhode Island. He died in 1915 in New York City. Aldrich's grandson, Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller, served as vice president of the United States from 1974 to 1977, and his great-grandson, John D. Rockefeller IV, took his oath as a U.S. senator from West Virginia in 1985.