December 4, 2009

Happy Birthday, Chester Greenwood

Born on this day in 1858, Greenwood was only 15 years old when he invented earmuffs. He ended up making a lot of money on his invention, which he called “Greenwood's Champion Ear Protectors.”

How did a kid who dropped out of elementary school manage to think up such a great invention?

His ears got really, really cold
when he ice skated.

Greenwood lived in a cold state, Maine, and he hated how
cold his ears got when he skated. One day he made two wire loops a little larger than his ears, and he asked his grandmother to sew fur onto the loops. Other kids in his town loved his idea and wanted some of their own.

Later, at age 18, he was awarded a patent and marketed his ear protectors more widely. He even supplied earmuffs to the US army during World War I; such a large customer meant big sales.

Greenwood invented other things over the course of his life: the bottom whistling kettle, a mechanical mouse trap, the spark plug, shock absorbers, a hook for p
ulling doughnuts from boiling oil, and the spring steel rake, and others. He even made the Smithsonian Institution's list of America's 15 Outstanding Inventors!

Not only did Chester Greenwood's great idea at age 15 support him for the rest of his life, “in its heyday, [it] 'supported half of Franklin County,' according to one resident.”

His town, Farmington, Maine, is known as the Earmuff Capital of the World, and every year celebrates Chester Greenwood Day with a parade in which cars and other items are disguised as earmuffs and cows and other creatures wear earmuffs. Chester Greenwoo
d Day is the first Saturday of December—which is tomorrow! According to Franklin County's Daily Bulldog, thousands are expected to come to the parade.

Be an inventor!

Thomas Edison once said that you can become an inventor by looking around at everything created by humans—and then try to figure out how to make something better. Bigger, smaller, quicker, slower, more delicious, more nutritious, cheaper, m
ore convenient... Thomas Edison was a bit of an expert on inventing stuff, and he said some pretty wise things. Here are a few:
There's a way to do it better - find it.
To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.
To have a great idea, have a lot of them.
Thomas Edison always said that you had to work hard and try lots of things that don't end up working before you come up with something that does work. He preached stick-to-it-iveness and said that many people quit just before they might have succeeded. Here's one more quote from him that shows his perseverance:
I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.

The Great Egg Drop

This time-tested idea has been enjoyed by many kids over the years. The challenge is to build a way to protect an egg from a high drop. You'll have to find a safe place to drop your eggs—perhaps off a second-story balcony—and make sure you have an adult's approval! Then build a safety seat for your raw egg and try it out. If lots of kids invent lots of different egg-drop protection devices, it's fun to see which ones work and which don't.

An additional challenge is to see who can make the smallest device that still works!

Here is one website that has details about an egg-drop activity.

One egg-drop contest was actually an egg-slingshot-against-the-wall contest. The protection devices had to be smaller than an 18" x 18" x 18" cube and less than 3 pounds.

Crazy Inventions

Rube Goldberg is famous for funny and crazy “inventions” that make simple things complicated and difficult. Check out his work in the Artwork Gallery here.

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