Chester Greenwood’s ears got very cold in winter. Since Chester lived in the hills of western Maine, near the town of Farmington, cold ears were a major problem. In 1873, when Chester was fifteen years old, he got a pair of ice skates for his birthday. “Don’t forget to cover your ears—you know how easily they get frostbitten,” his mother warned him as he raced off to a nearby pond.
Chester put on a hat, but the wool cap made his ears itch, as he was allergic to wool. It was a real problem. But Chester had an idea. He went home and found his grandmother at her sewing machine. Chester bent a piece of wire to the shape of his head, with circles on each end. Then he asked his grandmother to sew warm flannel and beaver fur on each circle to cover his ears and keep them warm. It worked.
Chester’s idea took off. Over the next three years, he replaced the wire with flat spring steel for the band. He also added tiny hinges to the flaps to allow the ear protectors to fit tightly against the ears. Chester was now able to fold up his ear protectors and keep them in his pocket when he wasn’t wearing them. His ears were warmer than ever!
On March 13, 1877, the United States Patent Office granted Chester Greenwood patent number 188,292 for his Greenwood Champion Ear Protector. Chester was just eighteen years old.
By 1883, when he was in his mid-twenties, Chester Greenwood employed eleven workers in his factory on the west side of Farmington who that year produced fifty thousand pairs of ear muffs—now made with black velvet and blue wool.
In 1977, one hundred years after Chester received his patent, the people in Farmington decided that Chester deserved recognition for his famous invention. The Maine State Legislature officially declared December 21, the first day of winter, as Chester Greenwood Day.
If you visit Farmington on the first Saturday of each December, you will find the whole town wearing earmuffs, and you can join in the earmuff parade.