His real name was Alfred Richmond Rodway. But in his time, everyone knew him simply as “Mr. Glad.” Silver-haired and always wearing gloves, “Mr. Glad” handed out coffee, sandwiches, and nickels in New York City during the Great Depression. This man, often described as the “Skid Row Santa” offered people many words of encouragement. He simply spoke from personal experience.
He had assumed the “Mr. Glad” persona after he experienced a two year illness and four operations that left him broke and severely underweight. At the age of 52, he had to start over. Rodway figured that if he could do it, anyone else could do it with a little help.
Of course, nearly everyone loves a great mystery. Mr. Glad thrived on mystery and used it to inspire others to overcome their personal misfortunes, much as he had overcome his own. He often quoted as saying: “There is a mystery and a kick in Mr. Glad that arouses a spirit of charity in the minds of those who have for those who have not.”
Many people have wondered why he gave out nickels instead of a different denomination of coin. Perhaps it was because John D, Rockefeller already had a reputation of handing out dimes to strangers. Or perhaps he thought he could touch more people’s lives with nickels.
As a further act of charity, he collected old gloves and distributed them from 346 Broadway. Somehow no one ever attempted to trace his real identity back to his front. One newspaper article stated that “Mr. Glad” gave away $20-$50 worth of nickels a day, during the Christmas season. But he didn’t limit his charity to just the Christmas season.
Most of the nickels that “Mr. Glad” handed out were Buffalo nickels. The Buffalo Nickel was a heavily minted coin in the 1930s. In 1936 alone, the Philadelphia Mint struck nearly 120 million. The newspaper coverage of Mr. Glad’s nickels had to compete with other nickel stories. In 1930, one ex-con was accused of stealing $100,000 worth of nickels from pay phones.
Meanwhile, Mr. Glad gave out 1,000 nickels a day. Of course, a nickel could buy a lot of stuff during the 1930s. Streetcar fares were one thing that fell on the list.
In 1938 one newspaper article reported that the buffalo nickel was going to be “put out to pasture.” The work on the buffalo nickel’s successor, the Jefferson nickel was well underway. Another newspaper made the prediction that Buffalo nickels would become collectors’ items.