Nelson Aldrich of Rhode Island rose from the position of grocery clerk in a mill town to become one of the most powerful senators of his era. Elected to the Senate in 1881, he joined the Committee on Finance, which established currency policy and set tariff rates. As chairman of that committee from 1898 to 1911, he studied financial matters closely and became an influential expert on the economy. Although Aldrich rarely spoke on the Senate floor, preferring the more casual atmosphere of the committee room, by the turn of the 20th century he became the leading figure in the Republican caucus. Aldrich “did not bother with oratorical display,” wrote one historian, “but relied upon his charm, his commanding appearance, his superior mind, his ability to speak forthrightly, and his exceptional memory” to influence Senate action. During his final years in office, Aldrich opposed many of President Theodore Roosevelt's progressive-era reform efforts, including railroad regulation. His intransigence on such issues helped spur the movement to establish direct election of U.S. senators.