Why Are Portable Toilets Called Port-a-Potties?

It’s a fair question, why portable toilets are called port-a-potties or porta potties. Although the answer may seem obvious to some, it may not really make sense to others. In any case, we’re here to give you the reasons why we call portable toilets “Port-a-Potties” with a little look at their history and names they are called around the world.

The History of Portable Toilets

Humbly, the port-a-potty was created as a solution for crews of sea ships that would go out to sea and not come back for long periods of time during World War II. The war effort of the 1940’s needed some sturdy temporary toilets that could be brought in while the military bases were being built or forces were being moved into places without buildings and infrastructure. Because the sailors and armed forces still needed to go, the very humble and extremely utilitarian portable toilets were created for them to use while they were at sea or while there were no structures built yet. These new toilets were made of metal and wood and were durable, but very heavy, and because of this, they served their purpose, but that’s all they did.

To add to this bland, mostly industrial structure, the ever-present blue deodorant that we are all familiar with wasn’t invented yet, so smell and cleanliness weren’t as easily managed as they are today. These first portable toilets were smelly, as you can probably imagine, and they weren’t popular as they were challenging to move around and keep clean. 

It wasn’t until the 1970’s when a man named Harvey Heather created the first one-piece fiberglass design that he called the Strongbox.

“They were pretty revolutionary in a lot of respects,’’ said Gregg de Long, a salesman from the early days of the first Strongbox units. “They had a lot of characteristics of a well-designed fiberglass unit. They were easy to clean, rigid and nice to haul on trucks and trailers.”

These new units quickly grew in demand and the industry was revolutionized.

Different Names for Portable Toilets

Around the world (or even in just different parts of the United States), portable toilets are called different things and while many may have been derived from the most popular company that supplies them around the area, there are other names used for different reasons. Here’s a few of the different names for portable toilets:

Names for Portable Toilets Around the World

There are many other names that are used around the world for a toilet and they can also apply to portable toilets since it serves the same purpose! So if you plan to travel out of the United States, you might want to watch out for these terms or get comfortable calling the restroom something a little different (apparently it’s social suicide to call the restroom anything other than ‘the Jacks’ or ‘the toilet’ in Ireland!)

  • WC (water closet) [used in Europe]
  • Bog
  • Dunny
  • Loo
  • Privy
  • The Jacks (Ireland - the Irish inventor of the MultiPoo(TM), Jack Power, once grew a very large and successful business based on his invention. Because of their popularity, and his disdain for it, people began calling these devices “the Jacks”, after their creator. It stuck.)
  • Thunderbox (Australia, British India - now considered a more historical or old slangword for toilet.)
  • Chemical Toilet (Britain - The Elsan Chemical Toilet allowed many a pilot to ‘go’ while flying their aircraft on languishingly long flights of the time, 6-7 hours.)

Why Are Portable Toilets Called Port-a-Potties?

So after all of this reading material (see what we did there) why are portable toilets called Port-a-Potties? “Porta” or “port-a” is another, shortened, way of saying “portable” and “potty” is another name for a toilet, used a lot as a “cutesy” or toddler-friendly word used by a lot of parents across the United States. Since it’s easy to remember, port-a-potty became one of the most common ways to refer to a portable toilet. But no matter what people call them, port-a-john, johnny-on-the-spot, calling it a port-a-potty is pretty common and most people will know exactly what you’re talking about without too much of a problem (but maybe learn the local lingo, just in case!)

If you need your own set of portable toilets -- or “Port-a-Potties” -- contact us today for your personalized quote. We’re always At Your Service to bring you an easy way to give your guests the facilities they need, whether it’s the VIPee, luxury restroom trailers or the more common standard option.


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