Innovators through history: Chester Greenwood

To mark the launch of the NZ Innovators Awards for 2012, we're celebrating a series of vaunted innovators and inventors throughout time.

Earmuffs, invented by Chester GreenwoodWho: Chester Greenwood

What: Earmuffs.

When: 1873

Impact: Born out of 15-year-old Chester Greenwood’s struggle to keep his ears warm while ice skating, the enterprising young man’s original attempt with two ear-shaped wire loops and fur sewn over them went on to be improved and patented. He later became the sole supplier of earmuffs to the US army during World War I. Greenwood, one of six children, was set up for life.  No word on whether his grandmother, whose sewing skills he employed for the original earmuffs, ever saw a cut of the profits.

Power, fame, and money: Greenwood’s fortunes were made during World War I, and he also patented many other inventions such as the steel-tooth rake. But it was the Greenwood’s Champion Ear Protectors that proved to be his most enduring invention. Everyone in Greenwood’s hometown of Farmington, Maine, went mad for muffs, with Greenwood’s factory churning out 30,000 of them in 1883. By 1936 output had increased to 400,000.

Legacy: The humble earmuff ended up getting Greenwood quite a lot of attention. In 1977, the state of Maine declared December 21 to be “Chester Greenwood Day”, and Greenwood’s hometown of Farmington is now considered the Earmuff Capital of the World. His birthday is celebrated with a parade, where even the local police get into the spirit by dressing up as giant earmuffs. And today, earmuffs can be seen proudly sported on the ears of enthusiasts everywhere as a winter fashion staple. 

Want to have a day in your hometown named after you? Want a parade in your honour? Then enter yourself or someone you know into the NZ Innovators Awards.

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