PORTLAND, Maine The market is flooded with ear-warming devices carrying names such as Ear Grips, EarPops and Ear Mitts. All share a common heritage the 19th-century contraption created by a young inventor from Maine with large, sensitive ears.
On Saturday, the town of Farmington was honoring native son Chester Greenwood with extra flourish during a parade in the year that marks the 130th anniversary of the earmuff patent, the 70th anniversary of Greenwood's death and the 30th anniversary of Chester Greenwood Day.
For 89-year-old Sully Greenwood, Chester's grandson, it's the one day of the year he wears old-fashioned earmuffs. "Nobody wears them any other time," he said from his home in Farmington, about 90 miles north of Portland.
In 1873, 15-year-old Chester Greenwood grew frustrated by the choice of either wearing a bulky scarf or having cold ears while ice skating. He came up with the idea of ear-shaped loops made from wire, to which his grandmother sewed fur.
Greenwood later added an adjustable steel band. He patented his creation and manufactured thousands of "Champion Ear Protectors" in Farmington.
Today, many people prefer sleeker models known as 180s, which wrap around the back of the neck, addressing a big complaint about the early ear protectors: mussed hair. Others have built-in head phones for MP3 players.
But the old-school variety still exists. L.L. Bean sells Swix's Skier Earmuffs, which feature fleece and a metal band.
"They're going great guns," company spokeswoman Carolyn Beem said. "They were inspired by nordic skiers and they do have a classic, timeless design inspired by none other than Chester."
Greenwood was known for his inventions. He had more than 100 of them, by some accounts. Maine's Web site credits him with creating a shock absorber, an improved spark plug, a doughnut hook and a folding bed, among other things.
But Nancy Porter, author of the self-published "Chester: More Than Earmuffs," said she found patents for only five of his concoctions. Besides the ear protectors, Greenwood took out patents for a rake, an advertising matchbox, a tea kettle and an automatic boring machine, a device designed to drill holes in the ends of wooden spools, she said.
Greenwood also created and sold a local telephone company, built a plumbing and heating business, purchased land and built houses, owned a bicycle shop and ran an excursion boat with his brothers on Clearwater Lake, she said.
Unlike many historical figures who only become prominent after their deaths, Greenwood was well known during his lifetime.
But like his invention, he seemed to fade away for years after his death in 1937. His comeback began with the Maine Legislature declaring Chester Greenwood Day on the first day of winter in 1977.
Edwin Churchill, retired chief curator from the Maine State Museum in Augusta, said what set Greenwood apart from other inventors was that he was equally successful in marketing and manufacturing his invention.
"There were a lot of things that were invented that didn't make it beyond the patent model," Churchill said.
On Chester Greenwood Day, now celebrated in Farmington on the first Saturday in December, every parade float is expected to incorporate earmuffs, and many of Greenwood's descendants are participating.
Porter will be watching from the sidelines. Like Sully Greenwood and several of those wearing earmuffs, she'll take them off afterward and put them in storage until next year.
"I have a hat with ear flaps that I like better," she said.