(1858 – 1937) was a Farmington entrepreneur who became famous as the inventor of ear muffs. An inventor for the ordinary man, he could look at a labor intensive job and then figure out how to get it done more simply and comfortably.
“Born in 1858, Greenwood was a tall rangy human dynamo who eschewed both tobacco and alcohol and ran a mile a day until the age of 75 (long before the benefits of exercise were popularly advocated). He rose daily at 4 a.m. and without breakfast headed for his factory on Front Street to start the fires.”*
Greenwood was 15 when he designed his first pair of ear protectors out of wire, beaver fur and cloth. At the age of 19 he acquired a U.S. patent. By age 28, the Chester Greenwood & Company factory was producing and shipping Champion Ear Protectors worldwide. In 1900 he had the brick Greenwood Ear Protector Factory erected, at 2 Front Street in Farmington, to house his growing business. By 1936 the company had its biggest year producing 400,000 pairs.
His invention at the age of 15 of the separate ear protector clipped to the head with spring steel occurred as a result of a propensity to frostbite while skating. Obtaining a patent for this homely device in 1877 he opened a factory and became almost instantly successful. In addition to the earmuff he also developed the spring steel grass rake and, in a totally different vein, invented a fluid shock absorber which could be adjusted to suit differing road conditions.In addition to these activities he also operated a bicycle factory and a machine shop which gained a wide reputation for its versatility. As a “maker of gadgets” he also produced wheel grinders and self-priming spark plugs. His ear muff factory alone employed more that 50 workers as well as a small army of hand stitchers working at home.
During the early 1890s, Greenwood established with C.A. Allen the first telephone company in Franklin County and proceeded to manufacture all of the receivers and transmitters himself. Not satisfied with all of these ventures he also was a partner in the operation of an excursion steamboat for picnic parties on nearby Clearwater Lake. In the 1880s he went into the steam heating business which he ran successfully until it grew too large for him to handle.*
Greenwood also invented the wide bottom kettle, spring steel rake, a shock absorber, a new type of spark plug, a simple doughnut hook, a folding bed, and bearings to keep wheels from wrenching off.
December 21st, the first day of Winter, is officially “Chester Greenwood Day” in Maine.
Chester Greenwood and the Invention of the Ear Muff. 1934-1988. (Cataloger Note: Collection of mounted news clippings, journal articles and typed biographical sketches. Photocopy. Augusta, Me. Maine State Library. 1989.)
*Maine. Historic Preservation Commission. Augusta, Me. Text from National Register of Historic Places: http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/nrhp/text/78000160.PDF.
Maine Secretary of State’s “Kids Page” through the State of Maine’s Internet home page.
Porter, Nancy. Chester– More than Earmuffs: A Brief Story of Chester Greenwood. West Farmington, Me. N. Porter. c2007. (Wilton, Me. Wilton Printed Products)
Tucker, Tom. Brainstorm!: The Stories of Twenty American Kid Inventors. New York. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1995.
United States Department of the Interior. Farmington Historic District Application for the National Register of Historic Places. (Courtesy of Janet Roberts; on file at the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.