Celebrating 100 years of

Edward Lowe

Hail entrepreneur! — A salute to Ed Lowe

Much has been written about Ed Lowe, who invented Kitty Litter in 1947. With his “dirt in a bag” Ed launched not merely a new product, but an entirely new industry and enabled more cat lovers to have indoor pets. Even more important, Ed left an enduring legacy to support entrepreneurs, whom he believed to be the backbone of our country’s economy. As we celebrate the 100thanniversary of Ed’s birthday (July 10, 1920), we’d like to share some of the traits that contributed to Ed’s success and made him so memorable.

Entrepreneurial DNA

During his lifetime, Ed secured 32 patents, 115 trademarks and 36 copyrights. Many were related to Kitty Litter and Tidy Cat products, but others were not, such as a packaged firewood business, a method for plotting and disseminating data about violent storms, and an artisan glass company. Heidi Connor, who served as the foundation’s archivist for many years, refers to a list of some 70 businesses that Ed owned. “It shows the diversity of all he did,” she says. “Ed’s unrelenting nature drove his success. Even when he was relaxing, his mind never stopped.”

Ed initially envisioned that Edward Lowe Industries (ELI) “would go on forever.” Yet in later years, this desire shifted into a greater legacy: to support entrepreneurs facing the same challenges he had experienced. As an entrepreneur, Ed strongly identified with the mountain men who pioneered the American West. “I realized I couldn’t perpetuate myself, but what about the breed?” Ed wrote. “What can my life do to help perpetuate the breed called ‘entrepreneur’? How can I help him and her along, make it easier to be a success, to gain strength and recognition?”

Deep thinker

Ed spent a lot of time in quiet reflection, which he referred to as “pondering,” and considered it a critical element in the creative process. “Creative people do not regard problems as irritations, nor perplexing,” he wrote. “They find problems interesting, even entertaining.”

Make the best better

Long before the concept of kaizen was embraced by U.S. companies, Ed Lowe was a practitioner of continuous improvement. And as competitors entered his industry, Ed’s passion for refining products and processes enabled Kitty Litter to maintain the lion’s share of sales.

Persuasive showman

Ed possessed an exuberant personality and sense of timing that made him a natural born salesman. This was particularly helpful as he “put rubber on the road” to build the Kitty Litter brand.

To convince skeptical pet-store owners to stock his products, Ed would produce a small box of litter and then pour a glass of water into it, stirring with a stick until the moisture disappeared. He repeated the demonstration at cat shows across the country, giving free product to show organizers in exchange for booth space. Within two years Kitty Litter was available not only in pet shops, but also large department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Hudson’s and Marshall Fields.

Challenging yet caring boss

“Ed set challenging, and sometimes unrealistic expectations, yet he was so charismatic that people wanted to do whatever he asked,” says Kathy Browning. “He had a passion and drive that was absolutely contagious.”

Eye for detail

Ed liked things to be neat and orderly. This expectation wasn’t just for office workers, but also extended to the production floor at ELI manufacturing facilities and the foundation’s grounds and buildings.

Make love and have fun

In addition to his strong work ethic, Ed is equally remembered for his sense of humor and appreciation for fun. He shared these traits with his wife, Darlene — and the two made an incredible team.

Values-based leader

A.J. Rassi recalls his first day of work at ELI in 1992. A recent MBA graduate, Rassi anticipated a thorough introduction to Ed’s financial and strategic plans. Instead, Ed asked Rassi to accompany him to a local Boy Scout camp where he delivered a speech and financial contribution — and Rassi spent time learning the Boy Scout oath and laws. On the way back to the office, Rassi questioned Ed about the purpose of the day. “He asked me to recite the Scout oath and law, and then said, ‘Young man, if you will simply live each day with me by the code of the Boy Scout pledge that you memorized today …. you and I will get along just fine,’ Rassi says. “Trust, loyalty and honor were values that Ed Lowe required of those that were close to him. On that first day, he made certain that I had a memorable lesson on how to be successful in life and career with Edward Lowe.”

“I always felt Ed was the real deal. He was not afraid to get his hands dirty, which impressed me. If he happened to be the first one in the office in the morning, which he often was, he would make the coffee or shovel the walk. Going forward I applied that to the way I handled my job.”

Jim Dinges, a former executive vice president at ELI

“You knew what his values were. He loved his country, God, the flag and people, and he carried those over into his leadership.”

Susan Kuczmarski, who served on the foundation’s board from 1988 to 1998

Origins of Big Rock Valley

Complex personality

“Love, I believe is a faith conceived in heaven. Love comes from God and returns to God. It isn’t a ‘thing’ like a box of candy. It’s more like a beam of light and we are mirrors, or we can be, if we choose.”

— Ed Lowe