William E. Harmon’s Death Reveals His Secret

On July 16, 1928 the New York Times published the obituary of William E. Harmon.

w.e.harmon nyt obit

Three days later, the Times revealed his secret. “William E. Harmon . . . a retired real estate operator noted for his philanthropies . . . was Jedediah Tingle, the mysterious philanthropist who made generous financial gifts to great writers, obscure poets, unsung heroes and good children without ever revealing his identity, it was disclosed yesterday.”

Although members of his family were “reluctant to discuss Mr. Harmon’s unique method of disposing of his money,” the Times reported that “many have been benefited by his unexpected gifts, and all have wondered vainly who he could be. Once he announced publicly, under the assumed name, that he was carrying on the ‘eternal mission’ of his own great-grandfather, whose name he had taken, ‘to bring smiles and tender thoughts to the great in heart, in high and low places, to comfort and cheer those who do exceptional things or suffer.’ ”

“He was an unknown contributor to the Children’s Aid Society for years,” wrote the Times. Corresponding through “a banking address in Brooklyn” the society honored his request and “made no effort to learn who he was. Only two days ago it made known his latest gift of $500 to be distributed as prizes in the form of savings accounts for children of good character among the hundreds who will spend vacations this summer at the society’s eight fresh-air camps.”

Coming tomorrow: William E. Harmon describes how he “hit upon something everybody wants” and enlisted his brother Clifford to “let everybody know that I have it for sale.”

To see some of the ads the Harmon brothers used to let everyone know what they had for sale, see here.

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