Seeing an opportunity

Factory machine shops initially used shredded newspaper and sawdust to absorb the oil that spilled on factory floors. Yet insurance companies banned this practice in the early 1940s due to the residue’s high potential for combustion. This paved the way for a new breed of industrial absorbents to enter the market, with fuller’s earth, a type of clay, serving as the base for many products.

In 1946 Ed Lowe joined his father’s business in Marcellus, Mich. Among other products, Lowe & Lowe distributed industrial absorbents for the Dri-Rite Co. A few month later, Ed’s neighbor, Kay Draper, stopped by the Lowes’ warehouse to ask Ed for some sand, explaining that the ashes she used in her cat’s litter box resulted in sooty paw prints all over the house. Instead of sand, Ed suggested she try some fuller’s earth clay he had in the garage. (This particular batch of aborbent clay had been sent as a sample by a Dri-Rite competitor, who hoped Lowe & Lowe would market his product.) Draper took the clay and soon came back for more, finding it far more more absorbent than sand.

After rave reviews from Draper and other neighbors, Ed established a new division at Lowe & Lowe, marketing the material as “Kitty Litter” at pet shops and cat shows throughout the Midwest. Two years later he purchased his father’s distribution business and devoted himself to building a national market for Kitty Litter.

  • 9/1/1940 — Ed Lowe goes to work in the grinding division of Bantam Bearing in South Bend, Ind. The following spring he is fired because Ed’s father asks his boss to send Ed home “where he was needed.”
  • 3/1/1942 — Ed Lowe joins the United States Navy.
  • 10/26/1944 — William Kane is a special representative in Chicago for the Lyman B. Warren Co. of St. Paul, Minn. The Warren Company sells Flor-Dry and Cal-Flor-Dry industrial absorbents. Henry Lowe is a distributor for Warren products in lower Michigan.
  • 5/17/1945 — William Kane establishes the Dri-Rite Co. of Chicago and appoints Henry Lowe as a Dri-Rite distributor.
  • 3/1/1946 — Ed Lowe is discharged from the Navy and returns to his home in southwest Michigan.
  • 4/1/1946 — Under the name of Lowe and Lowe Co., Ed Lowe joins his father selling ice and coal to residents of Vandalia, Jones and Marcellus, Mich. — and industrial absorbents to local companies. Commercial customers include Whirlpool, Bendix and Studebaker corporations.
  • 9/19/1946 — William Kane sends Ed Lowe a sample of Dri-Bed, the double-action chick and poultry litter manufactured by the W. H. Barber Co. in Chicago.
  • 12/1/1946 — Lowe’s Sawdust Co. hires Robert Follett as a truck driver.
  • 4/1947 — J. Kelly Dick forms the Southern Clay Co. in Paris, Tenn., to produce oil and grease absorbents.
  • 4/1/1947 — Lowe’s Sawdust Co. leases a building along a right away (R.R. # Ab R610) in Cassopolis, Mich., from Grand Trunk Western Railroad Co. This facility is used for weighing coal and bagging absorbent clay.
  • 9/1/1947 — Kay Draper purchases fuller’s earth clay from Ed Lowe to use in her cat box. Soon she will use nothing but this product because it is more absorbent than sand and doesn’t leave tracks in the house.
  • 10/1/1947 — At the prompting of Ed Lowe, the Davenport Pet Shop in South Bend, Ind., test-markets fuller’s earth from Ed to sell as cat-box-filler. Sales are so successful that Ed creates a label for his “dirt in a bag” that reads “Kitty Litter — absorbs and deodorizes — your kitty will like it.”
  • 10/9/1947 — Ed Lowe purchases Southern Clay Co.’s first carload of fuller’s earth clay.
  • 7/27/1948 — Ed Lowe becomes a Dri-Spot distributor and advertises in the Journal of Commerce for distributors of its fuller’s earth product. It receives interest from several New York City firms including the Brennan-Shea, Allerton House and Hilton Marvell companies.
  • 9/1/1948 — In its first year, Kitty Litter participates in 30 cat shows across the country where Ed Lowe provides free product in exchange for exhibtion space.
  • 10/28/1948 — The Harry W. West Printing Co. of South Bend, Ind., prints the first Kitty Litter bag.
  • 11/22/1948 — Promotional mailings are sent to pet stores in the United States and Canada announcing Kitty Litter.
  • 1/1/1949 — Ed Lowe is working double time — at Lowe and Lowe Co. and for Cleon Miner at The Machinery Co. Ed sells a large printing press for Miner and receives a large commission, which enables him to focus on building his Kitty Litter business.
  • 1/1/1949 — Ed Lowe buys his father’s sawdust, oil and grease absorbent business and begins to market Kitty Litter nationally.
  • 2/25/1949 — Kitty Litter can be purchased in Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, Hudson’s of Detroit and Marshall Field’s of Chicago.
  • 5/20/1949 — Ed Lowe advertises Kitty Litter nationally in House & Garden magazine, and orders began pouring in.
  • 7/1/1949 — In cooperation with Trupal Pet Shop, WKAM radio station of Warsaw, Ind., announces over the air: “Kitty Litter … taking the place of sand … but doesn’t smell when used over and over.”
  • 9/16/1949 — Kitty Litter is now available bulk in 50-pound bags or packed in 5-pound bags for resale.
  • 12/29/1949 — Preparations are made for the first shipment of Kitty Litter to California, marking the only cat-box-filler available from coast to coast.
  • 12/30/1949 — Lowe & Lowe Co. offers a Kitty Litter pan available through their jobbers.