For many generations, Mainers have been well-equipped to do battle with Old Man Winter.

Here we are again with winter knocking on the door. What better way to greet the season than with a parade paying tribute to the Farmington-born inventor of earmuffs?

It was a cold winter day in 1873 when 15-year-old Chester Greenwood’s inventive nature produced a revolutionary solution for frost-nipped ears. It’s said that Chester took some wire, twisted loops in each end, and fitted it atop his head. He asked his grandmother to sew some woolen padding around the loops. Some say he asked for beaver fur on the first muffs, but that’s disputed. Nevertheless, the first earmuff was born, and Chester’s hometown has paid tribute to the clever inventor with a parade early in December for about 40 years.

Saturday, Dec. 2, is Chester Greenwood Day in Farmington. The 2017 parade begins at 11 a.m. and the theme is Favorite Childhood Toy. The day also features a Gingerbread House contest in the morning.

Chester was more than a one-act inventor. It’s said that he was an inventor for the ordinary man. Greenwood had a knack for looking at a labor-intensive job and working out a way to get it done simply and comfortably. He produced prototypes of a wide-bottom tea kettle and a spring-steel rake. He made a shock absorber that was a forerunner to modern airplane landing gear, as well as a new type of spark plug; a simple donut hook; a folding bed; and bearings that would keep wheels from wrenching off.

Chester acquired his first U.S. patent at the age of 19. By the age of 28, the Chester Greenwood & Company factory was producing and shipping his “Champion Ear Protectors” all over the world — at least to locations where cold ears created a demand. The factory in Farmington had its biggest year in 1936 when 400,000 pairs were made.

Sun Journal writer Luann Yetter has highlighted a number of interesting Chester Greenwood facts in her articles. She notes that Greenwood and his co-worker, C. A. Allen, established the first successful telephone system in Franklin County. They made all of their own early transmitters and receivers. Sold in 1900, the company became part of the Bell system.

Yetter also wrote that Chester Greenwood and a partner, H. L. Spinney, owned and operated a steamboat on nearby Clearwater Lake, on which they ferried turn-of-the-century picnic parties for several years.

While Maine’s earmuff industry took care of untold millions of cold ears, a Maine boot-making firm made its mark in history by protecting cold feet with specially-designed aviation boots.

G. H. Bass & Company shoes began as a small shoe shop in Wilton in 1876. In the company’s early years, it was most famous for the Bass Aviation Boots worn by Charles Lindbergh during his historic transatlantic flight in May 1927. Those boots can be seen at the Wilton Farm and Home Museum.

Admiral Richard Byrd was another satisfied customer of the G. H. Bass boots. He went in search of the South Pole wearing Bass Aviation Boots.

We can take Maine-made footwear a step further with the story of a master craftsman who made the finest snowshoes.

Mellie Dunham was born in 1853 on Crockett Ridge just west of the town of Norway. He made snowshoes with a friend, Clarence Smith, also of Norway, who had made the first pair of snowshoes with turned-up tips around 1870.

A newspaper story of 1895 said Dunham had made 75 pairs of snowshoes in the previous year, and “he has a big demand for them.”

According to the Maine Memory Network website, Dunham produced 114 pairs of snowshoes in 1900.

“He took his snowshoes to the 1901 Sportsman’s Show in New York City and to the 1902 Massachusetts Sportsman’s Show,” the website says. “In 1902, Dunham built a shop across the road from his farm and his son-in-law, Nathan Noble, joined the growing business. In 1903, Dunham taught his nephew Walter F. Tubbs, a neighbor on Crockett Ridge, to make snowshoes, and Tubbs joined the business.”

In 1904 Dunham’s shop made 344 pairs and was the largest maker of snowshoes in Maine.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]


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