Arts and Culture

The Origin of Earmuffs

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It’s the winter of 1873 in Farmington, Maine, and 15-year-old Chester Greenwood had cold ears but wasn’t ready to take off his ice skates. The ingenious lad bent the ends of a length of wire into two loops, and had his grandmother cover the loops with bits of beaver fur. Then, as Mainers tend to do, he kept on enjoying the outdoors, not quite realizing what he had on his hands, or rather, his ears.

A few years later, cold ears around the world rejoiced when 19-year-old Chester patented “Greenwood's Champion Ear Protectors” in the spring of 1877. But Chester was just getting started. Patent #188,292 was just the first of over a hundred patents he would secure in the next several decades. From his home in Maine, he built a clever empire from inventions as varied as the advertising matchbox to a new type of spark plug. He earned the nickname “Inventor for the Ordinary Man” for his ability to take labor-intensive tasks and figure out how to do them more simply.

By the time Greenwood died in 1937, he had made a fortune supplying his “ear protectors” to U.S. soldiers during the First World War, and his company was producing 400,000 pairs per year. The Chester Greenwood & Company factory, along with his other business endeavors—Farmington’s first telephone exchange, a bicycle factory, and a machine shop—made him one of the town’s major employers. His legacy endured, and in 1977, Maine’s legislature officially declared the first day of winter “Chester Greenwood Day.”

For the residents of Farmington—now proudly known as the “Earmuff Capital of the World”—a simple declaration was not enough. They decided more was in order for such a prolific man. So the town now dedicates the first Saturday of December to its famous forefather, starting with a charity run in the morning and ending with the town’s official holiday tree-lighting ceremony that evening. In between, there’s a craft fair, a chili cook-off, caroling, a polar bear dip, and a parade of earmuff-bedecked humans, animals and vehicles. It’s a warm, jovial atmosphere, as if the town itself is embraced by a giant pair of invisible earmuffs.

The next time you’re in Farmington, be sure look for the Chester Greenwood House, now a historic landmark, and the Greenwood & Company factory building on Front Street.


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