History of the Porta Potty

Portable toilets have a long history; much longer than many people might imagine, actually. And they didn’t always look like the plastic pre-molded toilets that we are used to seeing today. 

In the Beginning, There Were Chamber Pots

From around 6th Century B.C., the first form of portable toilets was used inside of homes in the form of chamber pots in ancient Greece and were originally created mostly for the use of women. These pots were made from all sorts of material types such as ceramics and tin, or even lead, but most common was clay pottery because it was cheap and waterproof. The “chamber” is what people called the bedroom. And since this is where most people used them, they called them “Chamber Pots”. 

These pots collected people’s urine and/or poop or “night soil” and then they would get emptied either in a public dumping area, field, or collected for a composting farm (which was entirely unsanitary). Of course, they worked for a long, long time, but something better soon came along.

In the 11th century, when people began building a lot of castles, architects of the time also decided that it was time to add in “bathrooms” which were called garderobes. The name translates to “guarding one’s robes” and is thought to have come from when someone might hang their robes down one of the shafts for the toilets to kill fleas using the ammonia rising from the hole. Go figure.

Of course, these garderobes were obviously nothing like we know bathrooms today -- flush toilets didn’t exist until the 1500s and running water didn’t exist until the 1800s -- but they did offer people a place to be “left alone for private reflection”. Because isn’t that what we’ve always used them for? 

Toilets Through History

Romans were well known for their aqueducts and sewer systems, but their toilets were not linked to these sewer systems. Instead, their toilets were generally made to drop waste directly into a cesspit. While you could be seated next to 19 other people doing your business, everyone wiped with a communal sponge on a stick that was then cleaned by using a channel of running water in front of you or a bucket filled with salt water or vinegar. 

In the 14th Century, Egyptians were using porta potties in the form of wooden boxes placed over pottery. These boxes had holes carved into them for obvious reasons and were used to create more of a seat aimed over a chamber pot. In 1906, archeologists found a good example of one in the tomb of an architect named Kha (see image below). This box also contained ointments and kohl. 

(Photo from Egypt-Museum.com

With these examples, we have it really easy with even the worst modern portable restrooms, don’t cha think?

The History of Portable Toilets

Did you know that the modern-day porta potty had its beginnings in World War II? We’ve gone over this before in our article “Why are Those Portable Toilets Always Called ‘Porta Potties’?”. During the war, in Long Beach, California, someone recognized how long it was taking the men working on ships in the shipyard to get to the restrooms at the back of the dock. 

This man quickly asked around to see if someone could create a more portable option to be placed on the ships themselves. These portable bathrooms were made and worked really well but they were very heavy and made of wood and metal. This made them difficult to empty and get on and off the ships they were used on, they were hard to keep clean, and they absorbed terrible odor, but luckily, we didn’t have to use them for long.

Fiberglass units were used in the 1970s, and it was definitely a step up from their metal and wood counterparts. They were easier to keep clean and sanitized. They were much lighter and easier to handle, but fiberglass still absorbed odor.

In the 1960s, a man named George Harding was awarded a patent for a portable toilet made from rigid plastic. This revolutionized the portable restroom industry in the mid-1970s when they were finally introduced.

By the 1980s, Polyurethane porta potties were highly popular and used across many industries. They were - and are - the easiest to keep clean and sanitary, the easiest to move around, and they do not absorb odors. The use of polyurethane also brought us different types of portable toilet options, such as the “luxury restroom trailers” that came out around 1984.

Porta Potty Rental Options from AYS

Porta potties have come a long way from their humble beginnings, and now they are used everywhere from large construction sites to weddings and festivals. They have become the perfect temporary toilet for construction workers and AYS offers affordable porta potty rental options from job sites big and small. We offer anything from the standalone urinals to large handicapped stalls and high rise units for those more difficult to reach areas of the build site. 

Of course, we have multiple options for the event planner looking to rent a small army of standard porta potty stalls, as well. We carry plenty of standard units, portable sinks & Handi Stands (our hand sanitizer dispensers, perfect for where there is no running water), and even luxury “VIPee” restroom trailers, if you want something more substantial and high end for your guests.

Give us a call today at 918-272-0568 or get a quote to get in touch with us about your needs. We’re At Your Service, with products for every event or job.

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