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March 13: Chester Greenwood’s Champion Ear Protectors

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Black and white diagram of first earmuff design
These drawings appear in Chester Greenwood's patent for earmuffs.

People have proven remarkably adaptable to the extreme winter weather of the northern Great Plains. It is easy to overlook one item that has kept people warm for almost 250 years, and North Dakotans have a teenager from Maine to thank for it.

On this date in 1877, nineteen-year-old Chester Greenwood was granted a patent for “Chester Greenwood’s Champion Ear Protectors.” According to local lore, Chester loved to ice skate on the frozen ponds near his home, but he had a problem. His ears got cold.

Chester was allergic to the wool caps back then, so was unable to skate as long as he wanted. His ears simply got too cold. After giving it some thought, Chester asked his grandmother to sew beaver fur onto a wire band that would go over his head. The fur pads covered his ears and kept him warm. His ice-skating friends originally made fun of him, but he didn’t care. He could skate as long as he wanted. His friends soon wanted earmuffs of their own.

In truth, Chester didn’t exactly invent the earmuff. He added a hinge that kept the ear coverings properly situated over the ears.

Chester not only kept ears warm, he kept his town employed for the next sixty years with his earmuff factory. By the time he died in 1937, Chester had made a fortune supplying his “ear protectors” to the United States Army during World War I. His earmuff company, along with his telephone exchange and bicycle factory, made him Farmington, Maine’s major employer. Farmington still calls itself the “Earmuff Capitol of the World.”

Chester had a knack for creating gadgets that made life just a little easier. His earmuffs were the first of over one hundred patents he secured. His inventions varied from the advertising matchbox to a new type of sparkplug. But his earmuff is the most famous, and the one for which North Dakotans can be most thankful. So, on the first day of winter, which Maine has designated “Chester Greenwood Day,” remember to raise a toast to the man who kept our ears warm.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher.


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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