There’s nothing worse than having cold ears on a chilly winter day! Luckily, earmuffs are the perfect tool for keeping frostbite at bay, thanks to a clever nineteenth-century teenager who was allergic to knitted wool caps.
Modern earmuffs were first created by Chester Greenwood of Farmington, Maine, in 1873. The ingenious 15-year-old needed a solution to help keep his ears from freezing while he was ice skating. The teenager decided to bend a wire into two loops and, with the help of his grandmother, cover the looped ends with beaver fur. Thus, the first modern earmuffs were born.
Greenwood would not patent his creation, which he called “Greenwood’s Champion Ear Protectors,” until the spring of 1877. This patent kicked off a lifetime of invention for the young man; he filed more than 100 additional patents in the decades that followed the birth of the earmuffs. Greenwood also worked to refine his original invention by switching out the bent wire frame with broader bands and adding hinges to the sewn ear pads to create extra warmth and pressure.
WARTIME AND MASS PRODUCTION
While Greenwood did everyone living in colder climates a great service by creating earmuffs, the inventor actually earned his fortune by supplying the warm headgear to the United States Army during World War I. The Chester Greenwood & Company factory near Farmington was producing 400,000 earmuffs per year by 1937, when Greenwood died at the age of 78. His earmuffs and enterprises made such an impact on the local community that Farmington still celebrates Chester Greenwood Day, which includes a parade of participants wearing earmuffs, on the first Saturday of December every year.
TODAY’S WINTER HEADGEAR
Today’s earmuffs are as fun and fashionable as they are functional. Fuzzy faux fur poufs in a rainbow of colors are the norm for women’s and children’s options. Cat ears or other animal elements are sometimes added to the band for a lighthearted touch. Among men’s earmuffs, you’ll often find darker shades with more solid fabric exteriors. However they look, earmuffs are still appreciated today for keeping the cold winter wind away from wearers’ ears.
Earmuffs aren’t the only wintertime staples that are both a necessity and an accessory. Wool gloves, heavy scarves, snow boots, knit hats, and an assortment of coats all play an important part in keeping people warm while making a fashion statement. What makes up your cold-weather outfit of choice?