Our ears are primarily made out of cartilage due to the lack of fat and muscle; they are more sensitive to the cold and are often the first body part to respond to frigid temperatures. Because of this sensitivity, it is encouraged to use winter caps or earmuffs for protection. But did you ever wonder who invented earmuffs?
In 1873, Chester Greenwood, who was only 15 years old with an elementary-level education, invented the earmuff because he was tired of his ears getting cold while he was out ice skating. His hometown of Farmington, Maine, is now known as the “earmuff capital of the world.”
How Did Chester Greenwood Come Up with the Idea?
If you grew up in Maine, you would be well accustomed to the blistering cold weather. In 1873, Chester Greenwood, who was just a teenager at the time, invented the earmuff to help alleviate one of the persistent discomforts people experience during brutal winters.
Greenwood was born on December 8, 1858, in Farmington, Maine. He was one of six children, and they were all raised on the family farm. He only went to grammar school but did a lot of hard work at an early age. To help with the family’s finances, he would sell eggs around town and peddle candy or other sweets.
Before Greenwood invented the earmuff, he was always trying different ways to warm up his ears. Initially, he used a bulky and itchy wool scarf. He would wrap this around his head, it did the trick, but the enterprising young man was looking for a better solution.
When he got home from ice skating, he took two pieces of farm wire and shaped them into loops big enough for his ears. Then, he approached his grandmother and asked her to sew beaver fur onto the wire loops that he made. Soon after, the prototype of the modern-day earmuff was invented. The first version of the earmuff seemed to work fine, but it was evident that improvements were needed. Greenwood then added a steel band to connect the two loops and to add support. He also added black velvet in the inner muffler for comfort. (Source: Smithsonian Magazine)
When Did Chester Greenwood Acquire the Patent for His Invention?
When he turned 18, Greenwood was granted a US patent for his design on March 13, 1877. But before his patent was awarded, he started testing different designs and versions of his ear mufflers. Soon enough, people decided to make their own. Greenwood’s idea became so popular that he knew that starting a manufacturing business was worth it.
Greenwood opened the Greenwood’s Ear Protector Factory in Farmington, Maine. His goal was to mass-produce Greenwood’s Champion Ear Protectors. (Source: Smithsonian Magazine)
What Happened to Chester Greenwood?
Greenwood did not stop innovating. He acquired more than a hundred patents throughout his life. Some of his inventions gave rise to our everyday items like the steel-tooth rake, wide-bottom kettle, folding bed, decoy mouse trap, donut hook, and shock absorber.
He passed away in 1937 at the age of 79. The Smithsonian Institution named him one of the Most Outstanding American Inventors of the 20th Century. By 1977, the government of Maine declared December 21 as the Chester Greenwood Day. The residents of Maine celebrate this day with a parade to honor his memory and achievements. (Source: Smithsonian Magazine)