The Wonderful World of Portable Toilets

(Photo by Amit Lahav on Unsplash)

In the history of great inventions, the portable toilet stands out. It is an unlikely hero of the modern era, satisfying our ever-burgeoning need for convenience and speed--and what calls for convenience and speed more than the need to use the bathroom?

A Brief History

Our story begins in the World War II era of the 1940s. Portable toilets made their debut during this time when shipyard workers in New Jersey started losing too much work time from walking to the bathroom throughout the day. In response to this problem, the workers constructed crude portable toilets made of wood or metal with a small holding tank inside. The workers were able to up their productivity and answer whenever nature called, resulting in a happy shipyard and the prototype for the modern portable toilet. However, it would be almost two decades later before a man named George Harding patented them. Harding was the co-founder of PolyJohn Enterprises Co. with his buddies Ed Cooper and George Hiskes. Their company started selling plastic portable toilets in the early 1960s.

Harding was no rookie to business, though. For starters, he worked in senior management of General Motors in the 1930s. Later in the 1940s, he joined the U.S. War Department’s Department of Strategic Metals as a senior official. Just a decade later, he was in the fibreglass boat and underwater photoshoot industries--with Walt Disney, no less. Harding had had his share of entrepreneurial and managerial experience come the 1960s when his portable toilet company took off.

The 1960s were a great time to be made of plastic. The plastics industry was still relatively new around this time, and Harding wondered if he could revolutionize outdoor plumbing by modernizing an ancient human need. His idea would take shape as the polyethene portable toilet, a product that would propel him to the status as the number one salesman in his field. 

But Harding’s plastic portable toilet was ahead of its time; most other portable toilets were still made of wood or metal in the 1960s. This changed in the 1970s when portable toilets made of fibreglass started becoming more popular, as fibreglass was much easier to use and put together than wood and metal. It was only in the 1980s when Harding’s plastic version would begin to rise to the top, as it was the lightest and most accessible material to build portable toilets with.

Plastic portable toilets are still the norm today, but waste degradation technology has advanced immensely. Modern-day portable toilets pour chemicals at the bottom of the holding tank that breaks down human waste. This prevents the need for flushing or hooking up a cumbersome mobile plumbing system. Almost 60 years after George Harding’s revolutionary invention, the demand for portable toilets is stronger than ever.

The Sustainable Side

Portable toilets not only benefit us but the environment as well. According to the Portable Sanitation Association International (PSAI), portable toilets use 90% less water than standard toilets and save 45 billion gallons of water every year. That’s 125 million gallons every day! Seeing as the average American uses 100 gallons of water a day, it’s nice to know that water-conserving portable toilets offset this number.

Also, the blue liquid in the holding tank? It acts as a “curtain” of sorts for the other materials you can find in there. It also acts as a deodorant and contains biocides or a chemical that is designed to kill harmful bacteria. While a portable toilet isn’t quite a hangout spot, it’s nice to know that they take sanitation seriously.

A World Before Toilets

Our modern-day portable toilets are far from being the first outdoor toilets; chamber pots claim that title. A chamber pot is just a glorified bucket. Back in the early railroad days, there were signs aboard the train instructing passengers not to dump the contents of their chamber pots out the windows. The story behind those signs has got to be spellbinding.

Speaking of a world without toilets, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that there was once a world without toilet paper, too, which may be scarier still. The late 1800s ushered in toilet paper usage, and with it, splinters. The new toilet paper manufacturing process was relatively primitive, so often splinters snuck their way into the rolls. People continued to torment their behinds this way until 1935 when splinter-free toilet paper finally hit the market.

The Evolution of the Industry

Just as the structures of portable toilets themselves have evolved over the years, so the technology that supports portable toilets has as well. Believe it or not, mobile luxury bathroom trailers have become a thing, too. These trailers come with all bathroom amenities and are geared towards fancier events, as you might have guessed.

But portable luxury bathrooms aren’t the only advancements the mobile toilet industry has made; as we mentioned earlier, biocide technology has evolved to speed up the degradation of human waste and make the inside smell sweeter. While portable toilets do have that distinct disinfectant smell, it still beats the alternative.

Fun Facts

Now we’ve got some exciting facts about portable toilets that might surprise you a little.

If you’re ever on the hunt for a portable toilet, you know that most of the time you’re gambling to see if you choose a clean one or a dirty one. But did you know you could improve your odds of picking a clean one just be looking at them from the outside? Just look at the row of portable toilets in front of you and then take any 37% of them. Choose your favourite one, or the cleanest one; this is most likely one of the best ones in the entire group. Probability is fun, eh?

Others argue that the first portable toilet in the row is the cleanest, as it is most likely the one that people use the least. Some say that people assume everyone’s using the first one in the row, so they end up choosing other ones instead.

Also, how many different names for portable toilets can you name? Try Port-A-Potty, Port-A-John, honey bucket, water closet, john, Porta-Loo, Johnny-On-The-Spot, and the most outrageous of them all, portable restroom. In reality, you could probably come up with your own, never-before-used nickname for a portable toilet, and people probably wouldn’t bat an eye.

Another continuing saga in the realm of portable toilets is infamous over/under debate. We’re talking about toilet paper here, of course. Some people argue that it’s better to put the toilet paper roll so that the first sheet lies on top; this is the “over” position. Some say it makes more sense for the first sheet of the roll to be underneath, so this is known as the “under” position. Whatever side of the debate you fall on, it doesn’t change the fact that the 1891 patent for toilet paper showed a diagram of the roll in the “over” position. Studies show that three out of four people prefer their rolls in the “over” position, so maybe there isn’t a debate after all.

For those in the Essex area who need a portable toilet, consider Letloos for your portable toilet hire. With 25 years of experience in the industry and host of available sanitation services, Letloos will meet and exceed your portable toilet expectations. Visit their website today for more information and a free estimate on their services.

We hope you learned something new and interesting today. Happy Port-A-Pottying!

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