The residents of Farmington, Maine are celebrating the birthday of their favorite son today. Weather permitting, the big parade takes place for Chester Greenwood Day. The town of Farmington celebrates each year on the first Saturday of December. (The actual date of Greenwood’s birth is December 4, 1858.)
Greenwood’s claim to fame comes from his invention of earmuffs. On his 15th birthday in 1873, he received a pair of ice skates. While trying them out on a nearby frozen pond, he became frustrated about trying to keep his ears warm in the bitter Maine December air. He tried wrapping his head in his scarf, but it was too bulky and scratchy. He came up with the idea of forming two ear size loops from wire and envisioned large cotton balls held in place around the loops.
Later, he asked his grandmother to help him improve the idea. They ended up using beaver fur and cloth to make more durable muffs. Although Greenwood’s young peers first ridiculed his earmuffs, they eventually saw the wisdom of using ear warmers for themselves and requested their own muffs.
During the next few years he tweaked his invention. The improvements included replacing wire with three-eighths inch wide flat spring steel. He also integrated small hinges to the flaps to allow the muffs to conform to head sizes and shapes of individual wearers. The improvements also made the muffs able to fit inside of coat pockets when people weren’t wearing them.
During Greenwood’s 18th year, he patented his muffs, calling them “Greenwood’s Champion Ear Protectors”. He went on to establish Greenwood’s Ear Protector Factory. The business employed eleven Farmington area workers, mostly women. In 1883, the Ear Protector Factory manufactured some 50,000 pairs of earmuffs.
Public demand soon caused the need for a larger factory that was built in downtown Farmington. A big boon to the factory was the first World War as the U.S. Army purchased thousands of ear protectors to issue to troops. By the mid 1930s, the factory produced 400,000 pairs of his popular ear protectors.
Chester Greenwood had more ideas besides earmuffs. He patented a special flat-bottomed tea kettle, an advertising matchbox, a machine that produces wooden thread or wire spools, and his own variation of the steel-toothed rake.
He had other ideas that were not patented. They included: bearings to keep wheels from wrenching off their axles, a prototype shock absorber, a new type of spark plug, an umbrella holder for mail carriers, a simple doughnut hook, and a type of folding bed.
He owned a bicycle shop. Greenwood later started a business involving an improved building heating system. He is also locally famous for introducing one of the first telephone networks for the Farmington area.
Greenwood was a local booster who was very active in community affairs. He also participated in a committee to build better roads for Farmington and the area. Chester and his wife, Isabel, were vocal advocates of women’s suffrage and supporters of the Grange movement.
On July 5, 1937, Chester Greenwood passed away in Farmington, the town he grew up in and loved.