Ed Lowe, Inventor of Kitty Litter

Jane Burton / Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

"My life has been a testimony to the credo of the entrepreneur. People like me who have lived the dream should share their knowledge with others, because if private sector business doesn't help–then the American entrepreneur won't survive..." - Edward Lowe

When it comes to cats as pets, there are two eras: Before Ed Lowe and after Ed Lowe. Before Ed Lowe, cats were outdoor pets, and owners who had to let them inside usually relied on messy materials like ash or sand for their cats’ waste.

Then Lowe invented kitty litter, and cats have been indoor pets ever since. Here's how it happened.

The Eureka Moment

Edward Lowe was born July 10, 1920, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Lowe served in the U.S. Navy from 1941 to 1945. After the Navy, Lowe worked for his father selling industrial absorbents, including products such as sawdust and an absorbent clay called Fuller's Earth.

One day, Lowe’s neighbor, Kay Draper, had a problem. The pile of sand she kept outdoors for her cat box had frozen solid. She was using ash, instead. Ash was commonly used as litter at the time—even packaged and sold for the purpose by an entrepreneur named George Plitt.

But the ash was getting all over Draper’s home. So she asked Lowe to suggest an alternative that wouldn’t leave black and gray paw smudges all over her floors. He suggested to Draper that she try some of the absorbent clay he sold. She did, and she loved it.

Kitty Litter Changes Everything

In 1947, Lowe decided to package the clay in five-pound bags marked "kitty litter" to sell in a local pet store. The store owner did not think the product would sell for the asking price of 65 cents, as sand for cat boxes was very cheap. Lowe convinced the store owner to display his product and give it away.

Soon, customers were willing to pay more for kitty litter.

Lowe continued to distribute his kitty litter from the back of his car while traveling around the country. Lowe even cleaned the cat boxes at cat shows in exchange for booth space to demonstrate his kitty litter.

Lowe founded Edward Lowe Industries, Inc. to mass-produce and distribute his kitty litter products. He continued to experiment with additives to improve its performance. In 1964, Lowe began marketing his kitty litter under the name it’s still known by today: Tidy Cat.

It didn’t take long for big players like Clorox to claw out market share for themselves in the growing industry, but Tidy Cat stayed in the game. And if Lowe’s product wasn’t already enough to entice people to keep cats indoors, kitty litter got even easier and cleaner to use in 1984, when biochemist Thomas Nelson invented the first clumping kitty litter.

By then, it was a multi-million dollar industry. When Lowe sold Edward Lowe Industries in 1990, it’s estimated he walked away with $200 million. Lowe died in 1995, but with Tidy Cat now owned by Ralston Purina, the brand he created lives on.