A Look Back on Porta Potties

The height of World War II is seen as the birthplace of many of the technologies that we see and use today.

You can thank the scientists of the time for paving the way for modern day smart phones. They were able to build Colossus, an early computer meant to crack German Enigma codes, and were also able to launch the first satellites into orbit. But among all of the war-time developments of rockets, aircraft, and complicated radar technology, there is a small but important invention that often goes overlooked. As naval ships began their long voyages across the oceans, manufacturers had to provide a way for the sailors to relieve themselves on board. Thus, the first portable restrooms were born.

For a life on a ship, these basic boxes were a life saver.

They were convenient and useful to the soldiers on board. However, they were also much heavier and clunkier versions of what we see today. Unlike the plastic boxes that we normally see line the outskirts of events, these portable restrooms were constructed of wood and metal. Their construction proved to be difficult to handle when it was time for them to be cleaned and offloaded. But these hindrances did not outweigh the benefits that a portable restroom provided and the idea survived throughout the invention of newer and lighter materials.

As time went on, portable restroom manufacturers started popping up to take advantage of the new market craze.

The 1950’s and 60’s saw a boom in construction and event needs leading to the rise of Biff and Job Johnny, two prominent portable restroom companies. During this time, there were still no cost-effective alternatives to the wood and metal construction so the portable restrooms remained unwieldly and hard to move. But the concept of a portable restroom continued to prove itself as people began to understand that having some sort of restroom was still better than nothing.

Fortunately, that all began to change.

The 1970’s brought forward a new technology called fiberglass. The Strongbox, invented by Harvey Heather, was the first one-piece fiberglass restroom. While it was easier to transport than its wood and metal counterparts, the molded design was made of thick material that didn’t let light in so its users were left in the dark. The Strongboxes also weren’t easily stacked so while individual units were easy transport, providing a large order was costly. Fiberglass was also easier to keep clean but they were fragile and prone to breaking. The material was also infamous for retaining smells. Nevertheless, in the pursuit of portability, wood and metal restrooms were quickly replaced with fiberglass. The new construction made it easier to move and clean the portable restrooms but the trade-offs were still noticeable. Luckily, the following decade saw the rise of plastics and with it the modern porta potty that we see today.

Polyethylene, the most popular plastic that we use, began to appear in portable restrooms in the 1970’s after George Harding of the PolyJohn Company began to manufacture them out of this new plastic. The new material was a hit amongst manufacturers and consumers alike. Polyethylene was durable and light. Restroom units made of this plastic material were truly portable. Most of modern porta potties are made of this material because of so many benefits. On top of weight and strength, these new portable restrooms were easier to clean and had a shelf of over a decade making them a manufacturers dream. Fiberglass was no longer king and many companies began to make the transition over to plastic. The plastic was easy to make, transport, and replace in case of damage. For many, the transition to plastic was the final step in making the portable restroom truly mainstream.

Nowadays, whenever there is a construction sight or an event, large or small, you are likely to see a plastic porta potty. Since their birth, plastic porta potties have only been getting better. Manufacturers have included many amenities that can even be found in basic models. You are often going to see white translucent roofs that let light into the unit. Most have hand sanitizer dispensers inside or come with a separate hand washing unit. They have upgraded slip resistant floors and ventilation systems to help keep the experience as safe and unoffensive as possible.

Modern porta potties have also begun to be manufactured based on specialty needs.

For example, there are special units that cater to high-rise construction workers with advancements such as wheels and fold-able components allowing them to fit into an elevator and maneuver the workspace. You may also see some portable restrooms with attachments that allow them to be hoisted by cranes.

In the world of event planning, the need for quality portables restrooms has also been met. While convenient and useful, there is something unsightly and utilitarian about a long line of plastic porta potties that can negatively affect the optics of an event. For these instances, manufacturers have begun to create “luxury” versions of the popular portable restroom. These larger units are basically home bathrooms on wheels. They are normally large white trailers with running sinks with mirrors and hand towels. They’ll be outfitted with separate stalls, flush-able toilets, running lights, and a host of other amenities and are growing increasingly popular among weddings, special events, and even long-term constructions projects. These units, which may even come with heating and air conditioning, are a far cry from the wood and metal creations of the 1940’s and are a true testament to how far the world of the porta potties has come.

Porta potties have had a long and pretty successful history. They were born out of wartime necessity and have survived decades of changing attitudes and materials. As premium offerings become easier to make and cheaper to rent out, the days of avoiding to use the restroom during outdoor festivals and other events will begin to fade. Portable restrooms are here to stay. And as manufacturing and technology gets better, the experience they provide will also continue to improve.

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