Profiles in Personal Finance: William V. Roth Jr.

William V. Roth Jr.A Roth IRA is one of the simplest – and potentially the most effective – sheltered retirement account imaginable. Most people interested in personal finance find it very beneficial to become familiar with this tool as quickly as possible. Usually, this doesn’t include finding out who the Roth IRA is named after.

The man who gave his name to the Roth IRA was William V. Roth Jr., an American lawyer and politician from Wilmington, Delaware. Mr. Roth, a Republican, represented Delaware for 30 years in the Senate and 4 in the House of Representatives.

Roth was known as a fiscal conservative. He was a long time member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs and the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance. He is best remembered as a strong advocate of tax cuts, and he co-authored the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 with Jack Kemp. Roth was also the legislative sponsor of the individual retirement account plan that bears his name, the Roth IRA.

He was an aggressive watchdog against wasteful government spending. In 1985, as chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, he disclosed that the Navy was buying toilet seats for one of its aircraft models for $640 each. The seller, the Lockheed-California Company, said the seat was designed to be “lightweight, corrosive resistant, thermo-formed, polycarbonate material, seamless and sufficiently durable to withstand repeated usage and aircraft landings.” But, Mr. Roth said, “You can go into a mobile home and see something not much different.”

Roth co-authored the book The Power to Destroy in which he gave a behind-the-scenes account of how the IRS became a law unto itself and how it had destroyed the lives of many ordinary Americans. The horror stories from taxpayers and agency employees that Roth’s investigation uncovered elicited a public outcry that demanded immediate action, from Capitol Hill to the White House, and Roth details how these stories translated into specific initiatives that served as the foundation for the actual restructuring legislation.


Roth graduated from the University of Oregon in 1943, Harvard Business School in 1947, and Harvard Law School in 1949. During World War II he served in a United States Army intelligence unit from 1943 until 1946. After being admitted to the California Bar in 1950, he moved permanently to Delaware in 1954, and began his work as an attorney for the Hercules Corporation. His political career began in 1966 when he was elected to the United State House of Representatives.

Mr. Roth was known for campaigning around Delaware with a St. Bernard. ‘”You stand out there with a St. Bernard, and the kids come over; they want to pet the dog,” he said. “It gives you an opportunity to talk to the parents.” He had one for every campaign. At the time of his death, Mr. Roth had a St. Bernard named Wilhelm IV.

Roth died December 13, 2003 in Washington, DC. It was recently announced that the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal Bridge carrying Delaware Route 1 will be named for Roth.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Profiles in Personal Finance.

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