IN THE HISTORY OF CATS THERE ARE two dates of major significance: 1500 B.C., when the sleek little desert creatures were first given shelter inside Egyptian homes, and 1947, when they finally became proper houseguests. That was the year Edward Lowe chanced upon the cat world scentsation he called Kitty Litter.

In the 35 centuries before Lowe—who died on Oct. 4 in Sarasota, Fla., at 75, following complications from surgery for a cerebral hemorrhage—cat fanciers had to put up with one serious drawback: cats, whose metabolism is adapted to make highly efficient use of water, produce some of the most concentrated, pungent urine in the animal kingdom. By taming cat-box odor with clay pellets, Lowe found financial as well as olfactory success. Forty-three years after he delivered the first hand-lettered bag of Kitty Litter to a South Bend, Ind., pet store, he sold his company for more than $200 million. But his greatest legacy became apparent in 1985 when, largely because of his magic pellets, cats became America's favorite house pet. Today they outnumber dogs 59 million to 54 million.

As with many great inventions, Lowe's began with a hunch. Back in Cassopolis, Mich., in 1947, the 27-year-old Navy veteran, working in his father's sawdust and clay-pellet business, was visited by a friend needing sand for her catbox. He suggested she try a sack of pellets, regularly used to soak up oil spills on factory floors. The friend soon returned for another bagful, as did her neighbors.

Lowe, who is survived by four children and second wife Darlene, spent a portion of his fortune extravagantly, buying vast properties in Florida and Michigan and a 72-foot yacht. But his chief passion became his foundation, established in 1985 to teach and promote small-business management. Lowe's own company was plagued by family turmoil: During a bitter feud in 1984, he dismissed a daughter and three sons-in-law.

In recent years the estranged family reconciled, his children said, and in his final hours all were at his bedside, holding hands and singing songs to him. "I think we didn't realize he loved us," says his daughter Marilyn Miller. "But that was all resolved at the end."