Interesting Objects: The first pair of earmuffs

Ear muffs were invented by 18-year-old Chester Greenwood, whose own ears were, according to later testimony from his grandson, "big and cold"

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Indy Lifestyle Online

This weekend in 1877, 18-year-old Chester Greenwood proudly received US Patent #188292 for an item of apparel he'd invented some three years earlier: the 'ear-muffler'. Greenwood (whose own ears were, according to later testimony from his grandson, "big and cold") was to play a critical role in raising the average global temperature of the human ear in cold weather.

In late 1873, he went to skate on the pond in Abbott Park in his home town of Farmington, Maine, but became distressed by the wind chill factor and ran home. With the help of his grandmother, he constructed a makeshift pair of earmuffs out of wire and cloth before running back outside. Far from being on the receiving end of taunts from jeering pals, Greenwood found himself taking orders.

Over the next few months he made important refinements to his design, including hinges on each ear to stop them flapping about so much. When 'Greenwood's Champion Ear Protectors' were finally put on general sale, he stated confidently that "I believe perfection has been reached". While other ear warmers were patented during the 19th century (including WP Ware's 'ear, cheek and chin muff'and Isaac B Kleinert's 'ear slippers') it was Greenwood's invention that took off. US soldiers wore them during the First World War, and by 1936 his company was producing 400,000 pairs a year.

As each one needed to be hand-stitched, Greenwood initiated a work-from-home programme which, according to one local resident, "supported half of Franklin County". His other inventions (the 'advertising matchbox', the 'mechanical cat' and the 'wide-bottomed kettle') weren't such a hit, but his life is still celebrated every year in Farmington on 21 December – Chester Greenwood Day – when police cars and fire engines wear giant replica ear muffs.