Kay Draper was at her wit's end.
Like many cat owners in 1948 she kept a pile of sand in the yard from which to draw on to fill her cat's litter box. But the winters in her hometown of Cassopolis, Michigan had the disagreeable habit of getting very cold and freezing her pile of sand solid. For awhile she got by with ashes hauled from the fireplace but her house would be peppered from sooty paw prints. She tried sawdust but it wasn't absorbent enough.
Mrs. Draper went to see a neighbor of hers, the Lowes, about her problem. Henry Lowe operated a small business selling industrial absorbents, including sawdust and concrete. Edward Lowe, who had just returned from the United States Navy to join his father's business, suggested she try a product called Fuller's Earth. Fuller's Earth was kiln-dried clay balls that the 27-year old Lowe had been trying to sell unsuccessfully to farmers as a nesting material. Soon Mrs. Draper would use nothing else for her cat's litter box.
Ed Lowe figured that Mrs. Draper was not the only cat lover who would benefit by the absorbent clay balls. He filled ten plain brown paper bags with five pounds each of the clay, scribbled the name 'Kitty Litter' on them and paid a visit to his local pet store. He was met by a cool reception. The store owner couldn't understand why anyone would pay 65 cents for a bag of clay when sand cost virtually nothing. Lowe told him to give the bags away. After using the free sample, cat owners indeed came back with 65 cents in hand.
Ed Lowe hit the road, hauling his Kitty Litter to pet stores and wholesaling companies. He cleaned cat boxes - hundreds of them - at cat shows in exchange for a booth to hawk his Kitty Litter. If need be he sold the Kitty Litter straight from the back of his 1943 Chevy Coupe. He drove tens of thousands of miles across the country to get his business started.
As Ed Lowe built his business, he literally built an industry. He was so successful that his brand of clay, Kitty Litter, became the generic term for his product. His cat litter, with its odor controlling properties and high absorbency, made cats user friendly. No longer did the evening end with the cat being put outside for the night. The cat became an inside animal and today the cat is America's favorite pet, outstripping the dog in popularity.
Inventing a product and kick-starting an industry are not guarantees of success, however. Ed Lowe realized his product was little more than naturally absorbent clay, readily available to any manufacturer. He worked constantly to improve the quality of his Kitty Litter. He added ingredients to stem the growth of odor-causing bacteria. Other innovations reduced the dust in the cat box. Time-release agents controlled odor longer between litter changes. He developed scooping fillers to create moisture-activated clumping action so waste could be isolated and scooped out, leaving only clean litter.
Ed Lowe went a long way from the day in 1948 when he filled a plain brown paper bag with clay pellets and handed them to a distraught neighbor. When he sold his company in 1990, Edward Lowe Industries was selling more than $210 million of cat box filler every year.