In 1977, the Maine State Legislature declared December 21 to be Chester Greenwood Day. For the last 36 years, Farmington, Maine has held a parade in Chester’s honor, at first on the 21st and now on the first Saturday of December (before all the college kids leave town).
Who, you are probably asking (unless you live in Franklin County or nearby) was Chester Greenwood? Well, he was a pretty important fella back in the late 1800s and what he did springs to mind every winter, even now. You see, Chester Greenwood invented earmuffs.
I first became aware of Chester back when I was a library assistant at the University of Maine at Farmington and merely aspiring to be a writer. I’d had no luck selling the great long historical novels I’d written, and collected rejections, too, on a series of short stories that today would be considered paranormal. Back then there wasn’t much of a market for them, although I did get a detailed rejection letter from the editor of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, pointing out all the reasons why a story about past life regression would never sell. Anyway, to return to Chester, I had access at the college library to the archives that contain Farmington history and I came across Chester’s story there. In one of those inexplicable bursts of inspiration, I realized that his story was ideally suited to be written for children. Now I had not previously attempted to write for younger readers, so I have no idea now why I thought this was a good idea then. But I wrote the story anyway and, lo and behold, that story became my first sale, the event that turned me from an amateur into a professional writer. Highlights for Children paid me a whole $80 for “How Chester Greenwood Invented Earmuffs” and they ran it in their January 1984 issue.
That’s my success story, but Chester’s is much more interesting. Chester Greenwood (1858-1937) invented earmuffs at the age of fifteen. The story goes that his ears got cold when he was ice skating and he asked his grandmother to make something (from his design) that would keep them warm. In 1877, he applied for and got the patent for what would become “Chester Greenwood’s Champion Ear Protectors” and turned his idea into a thriving manufacturing business. His factory in Farmington made earmuffs for the next sixty years . At peak production, they made 400,000 pairs in one year.
Lest you think Chester was a one-trick pony, he had many other patents, too. My personal favorite is the “automatic cat”–the proverbial “better mousetrap.” He was a leader in the community all his life. His house, although privately owned, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. One of his descendants currently plays the role of Chester’s wife in the annual festivities in Farmington.
For a glimpse of this year’s celebrations in Farmington you can take a look at the coverage in our local online newspaper, the Daily Bulldog. http://www.dailybulldog.com/db/features/31st-annual-chester-greenwood-day-parade/