Cat owners may find it difficult to imagine a time when kitty litter was not readily available at every grocery store, supermarket, or pet store. Before 1947, that was just the case. Cats were kept mostly outside, coming and going as they pleased. If the need arose to keep them inside, their owners would use dirt, sand, sawdust, paper, or even ashes and cinders in the cat waste collection box. These methods gave cats the ability to cover their waste, but did little to stop the odor.
Edward Lowe, living in Cassopolis, Michigan, stumbled onto an improvement and into history in January of 1947. Lowe’s family business sold granulated clay and other materials for use in absorbing oil and grease in machine shops and factories, including those of Whirlpool. He had, at one point, attempted to market his clay for use as nesting material for chickens, but the idea never took hold.
Using clay for cat boxes would start with an unexpected prompting from his neighbor, Kay Draper. Draper sought out Lowe for sand, as the ash in her cat box was creating a mess in her home and her sand pile was blocked by snow. Lowe’s own sand, however, was frozen. As he describes it in his autobiography, his neighbor was insistent that he provide a solution and, without other options, he offered her a bag of granulated clay. He realized he had a potential product when she returned later, asking for more, soon followed by requests from her friends.
Kitty Litter, as he named it, was not an immediate business success. Lowe did not promote the innovation in it’s early days and when he finally started, pet shop owners were hesitant about the higher cost product. It was through presentations at pet stores and shows, demonstrating the deodorizing capabilities of Kitty Litter, that people took notice.
Many credit Lowe with making cats more popular among pet owners. His discovery also made him a multimillionaire. He sold the company in 1990, at a time when it was grossing $165 million in annual sales.
He also started the Edward Lowe Foundation, with the mission of community development and assisting entrepreneurs. They still provide a variety of programs right here in southwestern Michigan.
Edward Lowe died in 1995 at the age of 75. The legacy of his family’s foundation continues and the impact of his Kitty Litter has changed the world of pets forever.