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The Michigan roots of every cat owner’s favorite product: kitty litter

Dec 6, 2017

Before a Michigander marketed fuller's earth clay as kitty litter, cat owners that didn't leave their cats outside would use sand, sawdust or ashes.
Credit Laura LaRose / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCl0

Of all the ignored or argued over household chores, one near the top of the list, particularly for cat owners, is replacing the kitty litter. But did you know that without the ingenuity of a Michigander, we might be changing out the kitty sand?

Mark Harvey, the Michigan History Center’s State Archivist, joined Stateside to talk about the Michigan history of kitty litter.

Listen to the full conversation above, or read highlights below.

On Edward Lowe’s discovery

Before the creation of kitty litter, most families put their cat outside at night.

“If they did had a cat box inside it was usually filled with sand, maybe sawdust or, in desperation, ashes,” Harvey said.

Edward Lowe of Cassopolis was working for his father’s industrial absorbents company. One day, they received a shipment of fuller’s earth clay, which his father did not want. Edward Lowe began experimenting with the material, and when their neighbor needed extra cat sand, Lowe volunteered the clay as a substitute.

On the spread of kitty litter

Lowe called his discovery “kitty litter” and soon began to go to pet shows.

“He would clean people’s boxes at cat shows to demonstrate his product,” said Harvey. “That’s a dedicated businessman.”

In the 1960s, he split off and created the Tidy Cat brand. Lowe faced competition from Clorox and other large corporations, and eventually Tidy Cat was sold to Ralston Purina.

This segment is produced in partnership with the Michigan History Center

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