The first bag of clay-based cat litter (labelled “Kitty Litter” in manuscript), was given away at a store which was local to where the inventor Mr Edward Lowe lived. Mr Lowe originally suggested that the store sell his bags of cat litter at 65c per bag. Apparently, the owner of the shop laughed in response so Mr Lowe changed his strategy and said:
“Give it away and see how it does.”
We know how it did. The stuff became a way of life for cat owners but before its invention by Mr Lowe, people put sand in the tray or something similar or perhaps their cats went outside and did it in the garden.
At the time, in 1948, Mr Lowe was working for his father’s company selling industrial absorbents. The range of products included a clay: Fuller’s Earth.
At the time, I suspect that cat litter wasn’t even a seed of imagination in Mr Lowe’s brain. However, one day his neighbour asked him if he could suggest something clean for her cat’s tray.
His neighbour had been using ash as cat litter but her cat was tracking ash all over her house (a continuing, potential, problem we have to admit). Perhaps we should know this lady’s name because without her question it is conceivable that the concept of commercially produced cat litter would not have been born so soon.
Mr Lowe suggested Fullers Earth and, of course, it worked like a charm because it is highly absorbent so her cat’s urine was fully absorbed into the clay.
Mr Lowe was not the first person to come up with the idea of keeping a box in the home where a domestic cat could go to the toilet. However, he was the first person to know what to put into the box and which would be highly effective. Luck played a part as usual.
Over the intervening 60 or so years there have been refinements to cat litter but the clay-based litter is still the leading type. It is, though, less ecologically friendly than wood-based litter, on my assessment.
I am guessing but it would seem that the word “litter” in the phrase “cat litter” comes from one of the meanings of the word which is “objects strewn about untidily” (that is my definition but there are others of course).
My research tells me that the cat litter business is worth about $1.4 billion in the USA and worth about £120m in the UK. The cat litter market is no doubt expanding year-on-year. It is a remarkable history.
Note: the photo is reasonably presumed to be in the public domain. Wrong? Please leave a comment.