PORTLAND, Maine — Earmuffs are all the rage on at least one day of the year.
With the arrival of the holiday season and winter around the corner, the town of Farmington celebrated Chester Greenwood Day with a parade Saturday honoring the folk hero who’s credited with the invention that has kept ears warm for more than a century.
Earmuffs festooned floats and cars, and people and pets, too. A flag featuring with supersized earmuffs was hoisted outside the courthouse.
Behind all the silliness, though, there is pride in the famous tinkerer and his creation.
“They’re just ubiquitous. People continue to wear them. It’s something Mainers can be proud of,” said Angela Goebel-Bain from the Maine State Museum.
Greenwood was just 15 when he fashioned his first muffs out of farm wire and his grandmother sewed fur onto them in 1873. He made improvements to his creation, obtained a patent and manufactured hundreds of thousands of Champion Ear Protectors.
During World War I, his factory made earmuffs for the U.S. Army “doughboys” fighting in the frozen trenches on the western front.
Greenwood enjoyed tinkering. He came up with more than 100 contraptions but received patents for only five of them, Goebel-Bain said.
His earmuff design represented improvements by incorporating a spring that conformed to the head and kept muffs in contact with the ears, according to his 1877 patent. Other patents included a rake, a tea kettle and a wood-boring machine. He also 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.
Forty years later, the Maine Legislature declared Chester Greenwood Day on the first day of winter. These days, it’s celebrated on the first Saturday of December. Festivities include a polar dip, gingerbread house contest, tree lighting and carriage rides.
“People have stepped up to the plate to make it fun,” said Nancy Porter of Farmington, who authored the self-published “Chester: More Than Earmuffs.”
As the story goes, Greenwood hatched the idea for the earmuff to protect his generous-sized ears after a day of ice skating on a frigid day.
Over time, some elements of the Greenwood story may have been embellished, but not the part about the size of his ears, Porter said.
“He had pretty good-sized ears. There’s no question,” she said.