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Think your invention is too simple to be patented?  Or maybe it seems so obvious that somebody must have already come up with it?  That is not always the case, as not all inventions need to be complicated to be effective.  Such is the case with this week’s featured invention.

Not only does an invention not have to be complicated to receive a patent to be successful, the inventor doesn’t have to be particularly old or educated to come up with it.  Grammar-school dropout Chester Greenwood was one such inventor, and his story is plenty interesting.

Greenwood grew up in the small town of Farmington, Maine (population according to the 2010 census is less than 8000 people).  Like many northern states, Farmington can get awfully cold in the winter, but the people don’t let that stop them from enjoying the great outdoors.  Greenwood was no different than others of the time, but apparently he didn’t like the cold too much and decided to do something about it.  Greenwood had been outside skating and became frustrated because of how cold his ears were getting.  This is when inspiration struck.

First, Greenwood tried wrapping his head in a scarf, but that idea proved too cumbersome for him.  After giving it some thought, the inspiration for earmuffs struck.  Greenwood made two patches of wire that would cover his ears; then he asked his grandmother to sew over the wire.  On the outside of the wire was placed beaver fur, on the inside black velvet.  This became the prototype for what would make Greenwood famous.

When the model was completed, Greenwood tried them out.  Apparently others in town thought it was a wonderful idea, and the Greenwood Champion Ear Protector was born.  However, Greenwood himself was not satisfied with the result.  In his opinion the device was not secure or snug enough.  Modifications solved this problem and also made the earmuffs more bendable so that they could be stored in a pocket when not being worn.

Next came marketing of the product.  Originally the earmuffs came in only one style for ease of design and production.  Then came applying for a patent, which proved successful, and Greenwood was awarded patent #188292 for his new creation.  At just eighteen years of age, Greenwood was now officially a patented inventor who would set up shop in West Farmington for production of his earmuffs.  By 1883 his factory was producing 30,000 Greenwood Champion Ear Protectors per year, and eventually production moved back into the city of Farmington.

Greenwood’s company was already a success by the 1900s, but after this he would receive his big break.  When America entered WWI, Greenwood’s factory was commissioned to provide earmuffs for the soldiers.  Production grew rapidly.  By the 1930s, the company was now producing close to a half million pairs of earmuffs per year.

With this success, Greenwood obviously became wealthy and a bit of a local celebrity (Dec. 21 is Chester Greenwood Day in Maine).  However, he wasn’t satisfied with this one success.  Greenwood would go on to patent more things such as a wide bottom kettle, a decoy mouse trap, a spring steel rake, a type of shock absorber, a new version of a spark plug, a hook for pulling doughnuts from hot oil, and many, many other inventions.  In all, Greenwood was the recipient of over 130 patents in his lifetime.  Not bad for an elementary school dropout.

As the life of Chester Greenwood proves, no idea is too simple to be patented or sold.  At US Patent Services we encourage you to follow through on your ideas – maybe you will be the next Chester Greenwood.  If you have already gotten a patent for something you have invented, or know somebody who has, we invite you to view our website (http://www.recognizninginnovation.com) full of products to help commemorate this memorable experience.

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