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Nelson W. Aldrich. Drawing by Arthur Dove, published in Success, 1909. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-54138).

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Aldrich, Nelson Wilmarth (06 November 1841–16 April 1915), U.S. senator, congressman, and businessman, was born in Foster, Rhode Island, the son of Anan Aldrich and Abby Burgess, farmers. Having received a modest education in East Killingly, Connecticut, and at the East Greenwich Academy in Rhode Island, Aldrich was by age seventeen working in Providence. Eventually a large wholesale grocery firm, Waldron, Wightman & Co., hired him as a clerk and bookkeeper. His career there was briefly interrupted in 1862 by service with the Tenth Rhode Island Volunteers garrisoning Washington, D.C. After contracting typhoid that same year he returned to Providence and, by 1866, had been elevated to junior partner at Waldron, Wightman. He married Abby Chapman that year; the couple would have eleven children. His wife was of independent means, but Aldrich insisted on accumulating a fortune on his own account and gradually did so. He worked his way up to full partner at Waldron, Wightman, was a director of the Roger Williams Bank by 1872, and by 1877 was president of Providence’s First National Bank. He also headed the city’s Board of Trade in these years....

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Boteler, Alexander Robinson (16 May 1815–08 May 1892), congressman and businessman, was born in Shepherdstown, Virginia (now W.Va.), the son of Henry Boteler, a physician, and Priscilla Robinson. His mother died when he was only four, so Boteler was raised by his grandmother in Baltimore. He graduated from Princeton College in 1835 and married Helen Macomb Stockton the next year; they had at least one child. After his father’s death in 1836, Boteler moved to the family farm, where he earned recognition for agricultural experimentation, including the development of farm machinery. He also operated a flour and cement mill. He soon became a man of some wealth and was reported as owning an estate worth $41,000 in the 1860 census, including fifteen slaves....

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Crocker, Alvah (14 October 1801–26 December 1874), manufacturer, railroad promoter, and congressman, was born in Leominster, Massachusetts, the son of Samuel Crocker and Comfort Jones. His parents were among the founders of the Baptist church in Leominster, and they imparted a strong work ethic to their seven sons, of whom Alvah was the eldest. He went to work at the age of eight in a Leominster paper mill, where he earned twenty-five cents for each twelve-hour day. He received little formal education (one year at Groton Academy at age sixteen), but he read widely on his own, and his letters displayed a bent toward literature and rhetoric. He subsequently worked in other paper mills in Franklin, New Hampshire, and Fitchburg, Massachusetts, before he started his first industrial concern, a paper manufactory in Fitchburg in 1826....

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McKennan, Thomas McKean Thompson (31 March 1794–09 July 1852), lawyer, congressman, and railroad president, was born in Dragon Neck, New Castle County, Delaware, the son of Colonel William McKennan, a revolutionary war officer, and Elizabeth Thompson, a niece of Thomas McKean, a Pennsylvania chief justice and governor. His grandfather, the Reverend William McKennan, who emigrated from Scotland via northern Ireland and Barbados, ministered to the Presbyterians in Wilmington for over fifty years. When Thomas was just a boy, his family left Delaware, migrating to western Virginia and then western Pennsylvania. They settled in the town of Washington in 1803, and Colonel McKennan served in the administration of Pennsylvania’s governor McKean until the end of the governor’s term in 1808. Colonel McKennan died in 1810 from the effects of wounds suffered in the revolutionary war....

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Rollins, Edward Henry (03 October 1824–31 July 1889), U.S. senator and congressman, and railroad executive, was born in Rollinsford, New Hampshire, the son of Daniel Rollins and Mary Plumer, farmers. Rollins attended the Franklin Academy in Dover, and the Berwick Academy in Maine, but lack of funds prevented him from enrolling at Dartmouth College. Aside from a brief tenure as a Rollinsford common schoolteacher, he worked as a drugstore clerk in Concord, New Hampshire, and Boston until 1847, when he bought his own establishment opposite the statehouse in Concord. Two years later he married Ellen Elizabeth West; they had five children....