FARMINGTON, Maine – Earmuffs have come a long way in 142 years.
Chester Greenwood was a 15-year-old bestowed with generous ears when he decided he had had enough of the biting cold while ice skating in 1873. The first earmuffs were then born, fashioned from farm wire with fur sewn on them by his grandmother.
Greenwood made improvements with a steel band and adjustable hinges, and sold hundreds of thousands of “Champion Ear Protectors.”
These days, similar versions are still sold. Others wrap around the back of the neck, eliminating mussed hair. There are versions with fleece, fur and down. Some have built-in ear buds for music.
It’s worth celebrating. So Greenwood’s hometown of Farmington is doing just that this weekend, as it has for nearly 40 years, with a parade in which residents proudly wear earmuffs.
“It’s unique. How many other little towns can celebrate earmuffs? Seriously,” said Nancy Porter, author of the self-published “Chester: More Than Earmuffs.”
While Greenwood is forever linked to his signature invention, he also created other things. By some accounts, he came up with more than 100 contraptions, but he received patents for only five of them. In addition to his ear protectors, he patented a rake, an advertising matchbox, a tea kettle and a device designed to drill holes in the ends of wooden spools, Porter said.
“He was of the Yankee ingenuity breed,” Porter said.
He also was a businessman. He ran a bicycle shop, built a plumbing and heating business, and created a local telephone company. His earmuff factory closed a few years after his death in 1937.
The legacy of the dapper-dressed teetotaler and inventor faded over the years. But it was revived when the Maine Legislature declared Chester Greenwood Day on the first day of winter in 1977.
Fittingly, the first parade was held in a snowstorm. A snowplow led the parade to clear a path, and students from the University of Maine at Farmington participated on skis.
“It was snowing and people were on the street just the same, both sides. The parade turned out pretty good,” said 75-year-old Ronald Greenwood, Chester Greenwood’s great-grandson.
These days, the event is held on the first Saturday in December.
All parade participants must incorporate earmuffs in their floats. Afterward, an earmuff flag is raised at the courthouse. There’s also a polar dip on Clearwater Lake, and the town Christmas tree will be lighted.
In years past, there was a faux lockup where youngsters caught without earmuffs would be jailed, Ronald Greenwood said, but organizers aren’t going that far during this year’s festivities.
Afterward, many folks will put their earmuffs into storage.
Ronald Greenwood, a locksmith and building contractor, said earmuffs don’t work so well for him.
And Porter said she had a fleece hat with ear flaps that she prefers. “I have an original pair of Chesters,” Porter said. “I wear them on Chester Greenwood Day.”