Born in 1920 in St. Paul, Minnesota, Ed Lowe grew up in Cass County, Michigan. After his Navy duty, Ed returned to Cassopolis, Michigan, and joined his father’s company, which sold industrial absorbents, including sawdust and an absorbent clay called fuller’s earth. In 1947 Ed was approached by a neighbor who was tired of using ashes in her cat’s litter box and the resulting sooty paw prints. She asked for some sand, but Ed suggested clay instead. Soon the neighbor would use nothing else, noting that the clay was much more absorbent than sand and didn’t track all over the house.
After rave reviews from her and other neighbors, Lowe began marketing the material as Kitty Litter at pet shops and cat shows. Two years later, he left his father’s business and devoted himself to building demand for Kitty Litter. By the time he sold the clay division of Edward Lowe Industries (ELI) in 1990, the company had grown to about 600 employees and $165 million in annual sales.
During his lifetime, Lowe secured more than 170 patents, trademarks and copyrights for products and services. Although many of these innovations were related to the cat-box-filler business, others were not, such as precut, packaged firewood; a dust-free carrier for agricultural pesticides; and a wellness program for company executives.
Ed also had a flair for finding valuable property — and improving it. Among the 11,238 acres he purchased during his life was Big Rock Valley (BRV), which today serves as headquarters for the foundation. Big Rock Valley comprises 2,000 acres of woodland, farmland, prairie and wetland. Its diverse landscapes and ecosystems attract a wide variety of animals, plants and insects — with many species that are listed as endangered, threatened or of special concern.
Passionate advocates for entrepreneurship and its role in the U.S. economy, Ed and his wife, Darlene, believed that entrepreneurs did not get the support and resources they needed, which led to the creation of the Edward Lowe Foundation. Ed also believed that entrepreneurs learn best from each other, and this philosophy of peer learning drives many of the foundation’s programs and activities. Upon Ed’s death in 1995, Darlene assumed leadership of the foundation as its chairman and CEO.
1920 – 1995