Today, there are countless options for kitty litter available. But do you know where the first official “Kitty Litter” came from? As it turned out, it was an unexpected discovery credited with making cats vastly more popular as pets in the United States.
The invention came about in January 1947 when a woman approached Edward Lowe with a problem in South Bend, Indiana. The 27-year-old Navy veteran was working with his father in a business where they sold sawdust, clay, and sand. On that fateful day, Kay Draper of nearby Cassopolis, Michigan, came in to ask Lowe if he could help her after her cat’s sandbox froze. She expected to receive some sawdust, but instead, Lowe had a hunch about another idea.
He had been working with his father to make granulated clay in a kiln used to absorb grease spills in factories. As an alternative to sawdust, it was fireproof and wasn’t as likely to be tracked around on the factory floor. But would it work for cats too? Taking a bag out of his ’43 Chevy Coup’s trunk, he suggested Draper give it a try. She did, and returned for more because it worked so well. And that’s when Lowe had a Eureka moment that changed everything for cat lovers and for his family’s life.
Video showing Ed Lowe talking about kitty litter in 1986 by The TV Madman:
“I hate dust but I still love your cat,” Lowe said.
Kitty Litter and the King of Cat Litter
Lowe took sacks of the clay to a local store and wrote “Kitty Litter” on the five-pound bags. At first, people scoffed, but after giving away free samples, people wanted more. Lowe started taking the product to more stores, visited humane societies and attended trade shows. He demonstrated the product across the country by pouring a glass of water into a box of litter and stirring it with a stick until the moisture disappeared. People saw that it really worked.
The demand gradually grew over the years with some hard work and marketing in ads for magazines like House Beautiful. Lowe’s image was part of the marketing. He became the King of Cat Litter who said what movitated him was his love for cats. But Kitty Litter was just one of his many inventions.
“Although he certainly believed in the product, it was Lowe’s entrepreneurial talents that made cat litter the $2.9 billion industry what it is today. Notably, Ed is the only business owner to use his own image in marketing cat litter, solidifying his status as inventor, entrepreneur, and cat lover,” writes Disposable America.
Video by the Edward Lowe Foundation:
Over the years, Kitty Litter improved many times through research. New product lines, Tidy Cat and Aristo/Sophisticat became available and sold in supermarkets everywhere.
Lowe’s “35-Cat Research Cattery” operated into the 80s, leading to the 99% dust-free product featured in a 1986 commercial, complete with singing cartoon cats.
Video by the Edward Lowe Foundation:
Kitty Litter Changed American Culture
After Lowe passed away in 1995 in Sarasota at age 75, his obituary noted that Kitty Litter had changed American culture for cat lovers. By 1985, cats surpassed dogs as the most popular American pets. There was over $600 million in cat litter sales by that time.
“[Kitty Litter] did indeed cause social change because it made cats much easier to keep indoors than formerly. For the first time, a few decades later, cats actually passed dogs as the most popular American pet,” recalled New York Times obituary writer Margalit Fox.
Clay Litter Versus Alternatives
Kitty Litter was vastly superior to sawdust, but today, there are so many alternatives on the market. Clay is ironically now considered relatively prone to tracking, with silica dust that can be harmful and even carcinogenic if inhaled. There are many clumping and non-clumping clay litters with their pros and cons.
Everyone has their opinion about litter boxes and which cat litter one works best.
“Of all the places he could take a cat nap, one of Marm’s favorites is this litter box! (Jess uses it to harvest catnip from the garden so it makes sense! LOL)”
So Many Choices!
Litters made from corn, pine pellets like “Catalyst,” walnuts, paper, crystal silica gel (not silica dust) or “Pretty Litter,” and even soybean fiber or “Tofu Litter” are available.
We love that Pretty Litter allows monitoring of a cat’s health since the white crystals change color. Those who have cats with ongoing health issues can spot blood and detect the pH of a cat’s urine. But it’s also not biodegradable, doesn’t clump, can scatter, and is collected by mining operations.
We’ve had great success with Tidy Cats, which started as one of Edward Lowe’s inventions from so long ago. But now it’s lighter and easier to carry those big jugs around. Still, it’s very low in dust and high in odor and moisture absorption.
So does a perfect cat litter exist? Maybe not, and maybe it never will, but here are some funny tips we shared to help control litter box odor in the video from Cole and Marmalade below.
Video by Cole and Marmalade: