By Julia Williams
Kitty litter is essential for anyone with an indoor cat. But other than deciding what kind to buy and cleaning the litter box regularly, most cat owners probably don’t give it a lot of thought. I’m not like most people, though (a fact I’m well aware of and wouldn’t change if I could!) so I recently decided to find out how this useful invention came about. I was surprised to discover that the first product marketed as “Kitty Litter” was an accidental invention.
Moreover, this invention dramatically changed the nature of the relationship many people had with their cats. How so? Before the original clay litter, people who wanted to keep their cats indoors had some pretty inadequate options for litter box filler. They used sand, sawdust, wood shavings, shredded newspapers or even plain ol’ dirt. Now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how all of those options could be considered a giant FAIL in terms of performance, odor and cleanliness.
When an entrepreneurial man named Edward Lowe began marketing oil-absorbing clay as Kitty Litter in 1947, more people began opening their homes and hearts to felines. Although there have been vast improvements in kitty litter in the last few decades, this original clay litter was a huge step up from the options people had at the time. Hence, a better litter box filler meant that it was more convenient – and less messy and odorous – to keep a cat indoors.
The Accidental Invention
After serving in the Navy, 27-year old Ed Lowe returned to Cassopolis, Michigan and began working for his father’s company. The Lowe’s sold ice and coal to the residents of Michigan; they also sold sawdust to neighboring industries, and had recently begun offering oil-absorbent kiln-dried clay as a fireproof alternative to sawdust for sopping up grease spills.
Ed was approached by a neighbor named Mrs. Draper, who wanted some sawdust for her litter box. On a whim, Ed suggested she try a bag of the kiln-dried clay he happened to have in his car. The mineral was highly absorbent after all, and Ed thought it might work just as well for the cat box as it did for the factories. It turns out that Ed’s hunch was correct. Mrs. Draper raved about the clay and wanted to buy more. Because she was so enthusiastic about using the clay in her litter box, Ed wondered if other cat owners might like it too.