Evolution of the Port-a-Potty

Portable restrooms can be taken for granted; and whether one is attending an outdoor wedding, a golf tournament or an ethnic festival, portable restrooms located in these venues may not be thought of much, except when they are needed – and then, they are life-savers! 

 

In centuries past, port-a-potties were never taken for granted since having toilets in homes was unheard of for common people for ages; and it wasn't until the 1800's that actual bathrooms in European and American homes became slowly popularized.   Port-a-potties, in the literal sense, have been around for thousands of years – even portable 'squat toilets' were in use in Asia as far back as 1500 BC. 

 

Let's take a quick peek at how port-a-potties have evolved over the ages.

 

Chamber Pots – The Epitome of the Port-a-Potty

Chamber pots – handled pots or vases, with large openings – were included in households all over Europe before plumbing in homes ever became a luxury, and before Columbus stumbled upon America.  Typically, chamber pots were kept under beds or bedside tables; though once the Victorian Era emerged, chamber pots were built into cabinets with a closeable top. 

 

Often times, once the pot was full, people who were not aware of sanitation at its most basic, would simply toss the waste into the streets – not good!  That type of bacteria-ridden practice helped contribute to the high death-rate during the Bubonic Plague which ravaged Europe from as early as the 1300's and beyond.

Those who were more sanitary-minded, would carry their filled chamber pots to nearby gutters and empty them there so the waste could be carried into streams or rivers – water which was, also, used, for drinking and cooking.

 

During Medieval Times–which lasted for about 1,000 years, from the 5th Century to the last 15th Century – chamber pots went by a variety of names:  Jerry, Guzunder, Thunder Pot and other labels. Carrying a chamber pot to special occasions was common practice.  In ancient Greece, for example, people would carry their chamber pots to large suppers or parties to ensure their 'port-a-potties' would be readily available.

 

Fast Forward to the 1940's

Imagine shipyards in Long Beach, California during the 1940's where shipbuilders had to walk from their work stations to the dock area to reach a bathroom – sacrificing valuable work time, in the process.  An especially insightful supervisor decided that instead of men traveling to bathrooms, bathrooms should travel to them.  The idea took off; and portable wood and metal huts were positioned in close proximity to work areas.  Though these early designs of portable restrooms were primitive, odor-filled, and unsanitary, they served their purpose; and it was during this decade that port-a-potties evolved into a full-fledged industry.  

 

The 1950's

As the idea of portable restrooms took hold, a number of business-minded people began to realize that the concept of portable restrooms could turn into money-making propositions – and they were right!  Commercial building and home-construction sites – always in need of immediate bathroom facilities – became the first venues where port-a-potties were widely utilized on a grand scale.  Home-construction boomed after WWII; and these types of building sites began to dot the American landscape from coast to coast.  Port-a-potties saved the day by allowing workers easy access to bathroom facilities, in close proximity. 

 

Again, however, wood was the main building material of choice for these unsightly huts; and, therefore, the small, smelly rooms were gaining a bad reputation for bad air and breeding grounds for germs.

 

The 1970's & 1980's

Fortunately, inventive minds prevailed to combat the smells and unsanitary conditions of earlier port-a-potties of the 1950's ; and newer materials were being utilized – hello, fiberglass!  Fiberglass was lighter and so much easier to keep clean.  As a result, a slightly more-positive reputation for port-a-potties was gaining momentum; but there was a problem:  fiberglass was a fragile material, prone to breakage; and fiberglass, too, absorbed odors. 

 

By the 1980's, an even better material came onto the port-a-potty scene:  plastic.  More so than fiberglass, plastic offered less weight and a less-porous surface which helped to create a maximally-sanitized environment.  Various forms of plastic, such as polyurethane, emerged which is one of the most common materials used, today, for port-a-potty manufacturing.

 

Today

For anyone who has ever stepped inside a luxury restroom trailer, a sense of awe is experienced.  These upscale restrooms are the antithesis of the chamber pots of the past; and they include unexpected amenities:  wood cabinetry, conditioned air – both warm and cool – running water, flushing white-china toilets, wood flooring, surround sound, and more!

 

Portable toilets – they ain't what they used to be!