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The History of Kitty Litter


The History of Kitty Litter

Edward Lowe changed the world as kitties knew it when he invented Tidy Cat litter.

Photo courtesy of PriceGrabber.com
Like the origins of commercial pet food, the history of cat litter is rather colorful.

Up until the late 1940s, indoor cats traditionally used sand, soil, sawdust or fireplace ashes in which to conduct their kitty bathroom business. Not surprisingly, this makeshift cat litter was rather inconvenient and messy.

Then along came Edward Lowe, a young Michigan man who worked for his family’s industrial absorbent materials business after returning from service in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

Lowe first came up with the idea for a new-fangled cat litter with retail potential when he was approached in 1948 by his neighbor, one Mrs. Kay Draper, who was seeking an alternative to the impractical, unwieldy sand and ashes she had been using.

He decided to give Mrs. Draper a product called Fuller’s Earth, a clay-based substance his family’s company sold to machine shops to help absorb industrial grease and oils that would collect on the shop’s floors.

(Clay is now a no-no among green pet purists, but what did folks know then?)

The next thing you know….

Eureka! Kitty Litter is Born!

Mrs. Draper was so impressed with the nascent cat litter, which provided ease of use, superior absorbency and less mess, that she begged for more.

Realizing that other cat owners might react similarly, Lowe decided to fill some bags with the stuff – which he dubbed “Kitty Litter” – and paid a call to the local pet store to see if the proprietor would be interested in selling this.

The pet shop’s proprietor was initially skeptical, as he doubted that people would pay for cat litter when they could get sand, ashes and soil for much less, or free. So the enterprising Lowe came up with a simple yet brilliant promotional idea: He suggested that the pet shop offer free samples.

Customers were so impressed that they began asking for more, and were willing to pay the then princely sum of 65 cents for kitty litter.

The rest, as the saying goes, was history.

Kitty Litter Takes the World Pet Market by Storm

Realizing he was onto something, Lowe began showcasing his cat litter at pet shows, where his product was met with universal enthusiasm.

Lowe and his kitty litter became so well-regarded in the industry that he decided to capitalize on this by going national in 1964 when he founded Edward Lowe Industries which gave the world Tidy Cat, the first large-scale, mass-produced cat litter brand.

Aside from offering a revolutionary pet product, Lowe’s customer service savvy was legendary. Not only did he insist on the highest quality ingredients for his cat litter, he also ensured that each bag of Tidy Cat contained a money-back guarantee.

The Evolution of Commercial Cat Litter

In the following years, kitty litter became one of the hottest pet industry trends of all.

By 1990, Edward Lowe Industries was the world’s largest maker of cat litter, with a whopping $210 million a year in sales.

That same year, Lowe sold his company to a venture capitalist group for an estimated $200 million, although he remained on as director of the now-named Golden Cat Corporation. Following Lowe’s death in 1995 at the age of 75, Tidy Cat was acquired by Ralston Purina, which was acquired in 2001 by Nestle.

Meanwhile, cat litter underwent a major metamorphosis in 1984 when organic chemist Dr. Thomas Nelson discovered clumping cat litter when he arrived at the realization that dried (as opposed to baked) clay provided superior absorbency and a nugget effect when cats urinated on this.

Tidy Cat got on the clumping kitty litter bandwagon in 2000 with the introduction of Tidy Cat Crystals. This took the traditional clumping cat litters to the next level due to its superior odor control.

Cat Litter Goes Natural

The cat litter market, which is now a $1.3 billion a year industry, is still dominated by the clay varieties.

But there is a growing trend toward natural cat litter.

Among the more popular, respected brands are:

Indeed, cat litter has come a long way since the 1940s, when an enterprising young man came up with a simple idea that changed the world.

Cats everywhere owe a tremendous “meow” of gratitude to Edward Lowe.
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