Aram Jules Pothier

Inducted: 1999
Born: 07/26/1854
Died: 02/04/1928

Aram J. Pothier was born on July 26, 1854, in Quebec City, Canada, the son of Jules and Domiltilde (Dallaire) Pothier. He attended the common schools in Canada and graduated from Nicolet College in Quebec. At the time of his graduation, his parents had already moved to Woonsocket, Rhode Island. He joined his family in 1872 at the age of 18 and took a job as a clerk in a grocery store. A bright young man, he was offered a position at the Woonsocket Institution four years later. Pothier worked hard to learn all facets of the banking business, starting as a teller. He began his political career in 1885 as a member of the Woonsocket School Board. After two terms in the Rhode Island General Assembly in 1887 and 1888, he was introduced to the world of multi-national finance in 1889 when Governor Taft asked him to be Rhode Island’s delegate to the Paris Trade Exhibition.

Pothier felt that foreign investment was essential for Woonsocket to continue its industrial growth. It was during his first trip to Paris that Pothier probably met Belgian manufacturer Joseph Guerin, who, with Pothier’s help, set up the first large-scale, “foreign” spinning plant in Woonsocket – the Guerin Spinning Company. Eventually, Guerin built the Guerin Mills on East School Street, and his companies grew to include Alsace Spinning Company, Montrose Weaving Company, Rosemont Dying Company, and the American Paper Tube Company. Pothier also met with the Lepoutre family of Roubaix, France, who opened the Lafayette Worsted Company on Hamlet Avenue, Woonsocket, in 1899.

Upon his return from Paris, Pothier resumed his political career with several terms as Woonsocket City Auditor and several unsuccessful bids for Mayor. Finally, in 1893, on his fourth attempt, Pothier was elected Mayor of Woonsocket – the first French Canadian to be elected to that office. Pothier served two terms as Mayor and then turned his attention to state politics in 1897 when he was elected Lieutenant Governor. In 1899, Pothier was again appointed to be the Rhode Island Delegate to the International Trade Exposition in Paris. On this trip, Pothier met his future wife, M. Francoise de Charmigny. They would marry two years later in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Pothier also met with important French manufacturers, including the Tiberhien Family of Tourcoing, who set up the huge French Worsted Company on Hamlet Avenue a few years later. In all, Pothier is credited with bringing $6,000,000 in foreign investment to Woonsocket.

Pothier returned to statewide politics in 1908 when he was elected to his first term as Governor. He ran and was elected a total of eight times, serving four one-year and one two-two-year terms from 1909 to 1915. In 1915, retiring from politics, he became President of the Woonsocket Institute for Savings and the Providence Union Trust Company. He was drafted by the Republican Party to run for governor in 1924. He won that election and reelection in 1926, serving from January 6, 1925, until his death on Feb. 4, 1928. While he was Governor, Pothier had a profound impact on the State of Rhode Island. He reorganized the state’s financial structure, making it more efficient, revamped the Port of Providence, spurred the economic development of Narragansett Bay, and helped established the Rhode Island State Police. Pothier also fought for and won a change from one to two-year terms for state officeholders.

Pothier lived much of his life at his house on Pond Street. A Liberty ship launched on June 16, 1944, was named SS Aram Pothier. In 1999, he was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, and in 2010, he was inducted into the American French Genealogical Society Hall of Fame.  A monument to him stands outside of the Museum of Work & Culture in Woonsocket.

For additional reading:

  • Woonsocket, Rhode Island – A Centennial History 1888 – 1988 published by the Woonsocket Centennial Committee in 1988. 
  • Woonsocket – Highlights of History 1800-1976 written by Alton Pickering Thomas, MD and published by the Woonsocket Opera House Society in 1973.
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