At Oil-Dri, our past drives our future. As our organization grows, we find value in reflecting on the milestones that have led us to where we are today. Scroll down to experience highlights from our history and to learn about the people, discoveries and events that have contributed to our success.
Oil-Dri’s founder, Nick Jaffee, was born in Dubuque, Iowa.
Nick was recruited out of high school to play basketball at the Wisconsin Mining School (which became University of Wisconsin-Platteville). He was later expelled for sleeping in chemistry class due to all-night performances with his Dixieland jazz band, Nick’s Imperial Orchestra.
Nick moved to Chicago and held many jobs. He worked as a night shift mechanic in a garage, unloaded chickens in the South Water Market of Chicago’s Near West Side and later became an insurance salesman.
Nick worked as a manufacturer’s agent in the auto parts industry. He then established the Roberts & Richards Corporation, named for his two sons, and focused on selling auto parts to mass merchandisers such as Sears, Roebuck & Company, Montgomery Ward and Walgreens.
With the start of World War II, Nick realized auto parts would be scarce during wartime and began to research alternative products to sell. Nick identified the need for a nonflammable product to absorb oil from the floors of factories and garages that were doing war work. Through knowledge acquired at mining school, Nick thought Fuller’s Earth, a calcium-based clay, could be used in lieu of flammable sawdust because of the mineral’s highly absorbent properties. He placed a 10-ton order of Fuller’s Earth through Sinclair Refining and had it shipped to his home.
With bags of clay in hand, Nick brought his two sons, Robert and Richard, to the Sears Roebuck garage on 79th and Stony Island in Chicago. He demonstrated how the clay could work as a floor absorbent in the grease pits—and ultimately made his first sale.
Nick branded Roberts & Richards Corporation’s first floor absorbent “FLOOR-DRI” and began selling the product throughout Chicago. The Roberts & Richards office was on the corner of 22nd Street and Indiana Avenue, above a Walgreens drugstore.
Nick partnered with P.D. Jackson, owner of Motor Master Corporation, leveraging Jackson’s sales force to sell clay floor absorbents throughout the duration of the war. Oil-Dri was founded by Nick, P.D. Jackson and their two wives. The company exclusively sold mineral floor absorbents. The Floor-Dri product was renamed Oil-Dri. The iconic “Slipping Man” graphic was introduced.
Oil-Dri began to market and advertise its product. “Uncle Elby” and his dog, “Napoleon” were introduced and through advertisements they became the face of the company.
Due to the product’s non-flammable attributes, Oil-Dri floor absorbent was tested and approved by the Underwriters Laboratories as a fire prevention product.
The Company moved into a new 600-square-foot office at 520 North Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
Milestone: Sales hit $500,000
Oil-Dri incorporated in Illinois and became Oil-Dri Corporation of America.
Oil-Dri sells its first bag of cat litter.
Nick Jaffee purchased the Jacksons’ portion of the business and became the sole owner of the Company.
J. Kelly Dick (originally a pharmacist who saw potential in clay), started supplying Oil-Dri with clay produced in Paris, Tennessee; Cairo, Georgia and Ripley, Mississippi.
In an effort to secure the Company’s supply of raw materials, Nick purchased a 22% stake of the Cairo Production Company located in Cairo, Georgia and 35% of Howell Southern Products in Ripley, Mississippi.
Under the guidance of Al Swerdlik, one of the company’s founding teammates, Richard Jaffee began working part-time after school as Oil-Dri’s “office boy.”
After finishing his military service, Dick Jaffee began his full-time career at Oil-Dri.
Milestone: The Company had 15 teammates, sales averaged 20,000 tons a year and hit $1 million and the Company made a $6,000 profit.
Dick took over operations and became President & CEO.
Oil-Dri began the vertical integration process and fully acquired the production plants and mineral reserves in Cairo, Georgia and Ripley, Mississippi. These businesses were merged with Oil-Dri Corporation of America.
The brand Cat’s Pride® Cat Litter was introduced to the pet care market.
Nick died from a heart attack at the age of 56. Dick began diversification and expanded the Company’s product offerings for a wide range of applications.
In conjunction with Purdue University’s Turf Grass Institute, TerraGreen® Soil Conditioner was developed for the building and maintenance of golf courses and other high value turf applications. Oil-Dri developed Kitty-Dri™ and Pet Purr™ branded cat litter.
Agsorb® Carriers were introduced to the crop protection chemicals market to replace aerial crop dusting and thereby eliminate the drift of chemicals in agricultural applications. Additionally Dri-Nest was developed to absorb the wet droppings of nesting chickens.
Oil-Dri expanded its cat litter and grease absorbent businesses to the European market. Oil-Dri Corporation of America was incorporated in Delaware as the successor to the Illinois corporation that was incorporated in 1946.
Ned Janotta, later chairman of William Blair, and Allan H. “Bud” Selig, later Commisioner of Major League Baseball, joined Oil-Dri’s Board of Directors.
Milestone: Sales hit $5,000,000
Oil-Dri began its initial efforts researching additional product applications and also established its Consumer Products Group.
Milestone: Sales reached $6.5 million; earnings were $526,000.
With the aid of Edgar “Ned” Jannotta and the William Blair & Company, Oil-Dri made its initial public offering, releasing 120,000 shares of stock and raising $1.2 million to finance the building of its production plant in Ochlocknee, Georgia.
The Company made its first cat litter sale to Walmart.
Oil-Dri began paying cash dividends.
Oil-Dri, S.A. was established in Coppet, Switzerland and production facilities were constructed in Wisbech, United Kingdom. Floor absorbents and cat litter were manufactured at these locations using a newly patented, synthetic technology and the company began exporting to Western Europe.
A new Agri-Tech division was established within the Company.
Research & Development efforts moved from Chicago to newly purchased property in Prairie View, Illinois. Oil-Dri West was established as a division when the Company acquired a production plant and diatomaceous earth reserves in Christmas Valley, Oregon
In order to receive bulk clay from the United States, Oil-Dri, S.A. built a plant on the Rhine River in Cologne, Germany. The plant repackaged the material as cat litter and floor absorbent.
Milestone: Sales topped $33 million; earnings reached $1.2 million.
Micro-granule products, Flo-Fre® Flowability Aid and Pel-Unite® Pellet Binder, were developed and introduced by the Agri-Tech division.
Oil-Dri established a strategic alliance with The Clorox Company and jointly developed Fresh Step® coarse cat litter.
With Oil-Dri’s support, Verlyn “Swede” Roskam, another founding teammate, formed Educational Assistance, Ltd., which has since helped over 10,000 students achieve college educations.
Oil-Dri Transportation Company and the Oil-Dri Customer Service group were established
Shipments to Europe continued; export sales expanded to new geographic locations including Japan, Malaysia and Australia.
Cat’s Pride Scented cat litter was introduced to the market.
Favorite Products, Ltd., in Laval, Québec, Canada was acquired and sales were expanded throughout Canada.
Dick served as President of the Sorptive Minerals Institute (SMI), a not-for-profit, national trade association representing the producers and marketers of products made from absorbent clay minerals.
The acquisition of a production plant owned by Anschutz Mineral became Oil-Dri Corporation of Georgia’s South Plant in Ochlocknee.
In conjunction with a secondary stock offering, Class B Stock was established. Retained by the founding family, Class B Stock has 10 votes per share. In return, Class B stock receives a 25% lower dividend. The purpose of this change in capital structure was to ensure a longer-term view for the benefit of all stockholders.
Oil-Dri introduced new fluids purification products: Pure-Flo® to the edible oil market and Ultra-Clear® to the jet fuel clarification market. These products are produced at a dedicated fine powders plant in Ochlocknee, Georgia.
Daniel “Dan” Jaffee started his full-time career at Oil-Dri.
The plant in Ripley, Mississippi underwent a major expansion to handle increased demand for Agsorb.®
New packaging was designed for Cat’s Pride® with an endorsement from the American Humane Association.
Oil-Dri acquired Ami-Dri Corporation’s production facility and reserves and established the Blue Mountain Production Company, a Mississippi facility focusing on cat litter production. The Company expanded sales to mass merchandisers.
Milestone: Sales hit $83,000,000
Dan Jaffee packed-up his car with a license plate that read “OILDRI” and drove to Laval, Canada. He managed the Canadian facility full-time for one year and then began commuting back and forth from Chicago.
The Saular KatKit® was introduced and sold in Canada.
The Company acquired Industrial Environmental Products, Inc., and entered the polypropylene sorbents market with Oil-Dri Lite™ Sorbents.
Milestone: Sales reached $94 million; earnings topped $7 million.
Oil-Dri celebrates its 50th year in business.
The Nick Jaffee Center for Innovation was was built and opened in Vernon Hills, Illinois. The state-of-the-art scientific campus houses an extensive laboratory, pilot plant and 26 teammates. Oil-Dri’s Animal Health business was established. Pel-Unite Plus Pelleting Aid was added to the product offerings.
Oil-Dri was listed on the New York Stock Exchange on December 20, 1993 with the ticker ODC.
Oil-Dri’s executive headquarters moved to Chicago’s historic Wrigley Building at 410 North Michigan Avenue, where it operates today.
Oil-Dri was named the first-ever recipient of the National Family Business of the Year Award.
Dan Jaffee took over as President and Chief Operating Officer.
The Company introduced Cat’s Pride® scoopable cat litter and Cat’s Pride® KatKit® disposable cat litter trays to the pet care market in the United States.
The Company acquired American Colloid’s facility and mineral rights in Mounds, Illinois.
Oil-Dri introduced Scoop ‘N Flush™ and DustStopper™ cat litters, made with recycled paper.
Milestone: Sales hit $174,000,000.
Oil-Dri developed a new mission statement, “Creating Value From Sorbent Minerals.” All product lines were expanded with a focus on value-added products. Oil-Dri acquired Pro’s Choice Sports Field Products®. The Ochlocknee, Georgia facility was expanded to support a growing demand for Pure-Flo® bleaching earths.
Oil-Dri acquired the Jonny Cat® brand of pet care products, manufacturing facility and mineral reserves in Taft, California.
Oil-Dri began annual dividend increases for both classes of stock.
Milestone: Sales hit $232,000,000.
A new plant was constructed in Ripley, Mississippi for the production of new innovative chemical and biological carrier technology, Verge® engineered granules.
Amlan® International was established as Oil-Dri’s animal health business and launched Calibrin® products.
Cat’s Pride® Fresh & Light.® brand of lightweight cat litters was launched and revolutionized the cat litter industry.
Oil-Dri and Cat’s Pride Fresh & Light won Walmart’s Responsibility Award.
The Blue Mountain production facility expanded in order to support the launch of Cat’s Pride® Fresh & Light.®
The Chicago Tribune named Oil-Dri one of the city’s Top 100 Workplaces in the small business category.
The Ripley production facility celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Oil-Dri purchased the clay cat litter business assets of MFM Industries, Inc. in Ocala, Florida.
Nominated by Oil-Dri teammates, the Company earned the highest ranking and special award for ethical standards among the Chicago Tribune‘s Top 100 Workplaces for companies.
A grand opening was held for Oil-Dri’s Chinese subsidiary, Amlan Trading (Shenzhen) Company, Ltd. in Shenzhen, China.
Oil-Dri was again nominated by a teammate and was named as one of The Chicago Tribune’s Top 100 Workplaces.
Amlan International launched two new natural growth promotion products, Varium™ for Poultry and NeoPrime™ for post-weaning piglets.
The Industrial & Automotive Products Group launched its Snow & Go™ Winter Traction Aid product.
Oil-Dri received patents for a variety of lightweight scoopable cat litter formulations.
Oil-Dri celebrated its 75th anniversary of business.
In promotion of Cat’s Pride® Fresh & Light Ultimate Care,® a partnership was formed with Katherine Heigl, award-winning actress and CEO of The Jason Debus Heigl Foundation.™ We are proud that a portion of every sale of Fresh & Light Ultimate Care products assists the foundation and its mission to end animal cruelty.
The annual We Care award was renamed to the Al Swerdlik award after one of the Oil-Dri’s founding teammates who exemplified the Company’s founding principles.