OBITUARIES: Edward Lowe

Edward Lowe was an eccentric entrepreneur who was the inventor of cat litter. The absorbent clay granules which he marketed as Kitty Litter have arguably made cats more acceptable company; they also built for Lowe a half-billion-dollar industry.

In 1947, as a 27-year-old navy veteran, Lowe was asked by a neighbour, whose cat's sand box had frozen, for some sawdust. Lowe, who had been working in his father's sawdust business, offered her a bag of kiln-dried granulated clay which was used to soak up grease spills. When she came back a few days later asking for more, Lowe had a hunch he was on to something. He took 10 sacks, marked them "Kitty Litter" and began selling them from the back of his station wagon.

By supplying pet stores and promoting at cat shows Lowe soon created a booming business and his idea brought relief to the problem of keeping a creature with one of the most obnoxious effluences in the animal kingdom. Before Kitty Litter, keeping cats domestically was less than appealing. Their constitutions are adapted for arid climates and make such an efficient use of water that the concentrated stench of their urine could not be masked by traditional absorbents.

Lowe, who said he had grown up so poor than his family had burned corn cobs for fuel and had no indoor lavatory, became a prodigious spender. He acquired a 72ft yacht, 22 homes from Florida to Michigan, a private railroad and an entire Michigan town.

His unusual ways created problems within his family, which came to a head in 1984 when he dismissed his three children from their positions in the company, accusing them of trying to take over the business by declaring him incompetent and an alcoholic. Lowe responded by denying having a drinking problem and saying that his daughters' attendance at Al-Anon, the 12-step organisation for the children of alcoholics, was merely a ruse.

In later years Lowe made up with his children and set up a foundation on his 3,000-acre Michigan estate with a variety of programmes including one that sought to help other entrepreneurs avoid similar family problems. Lowe spent heavily to improve his product and maintain its market share until he sold Kitty Litter to Golden Cat for $200m in 1990.

Adapting clay for use in cat boxes is credited with giving dogs a rival in American homes - in 1985, according to the Pet Industry Advisory Council, cats overtook dogs as the most popular pet. There are now 54.2 million dogs and 63 million cats in the United States.

Edward Helmore

Edward Lowe, businessman: born 1920; twice married (three daughters); died Sarasota, Florida 4 October 1995.

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