Toilets have evolved tremendously since their creation. They went from basic ceramic pots to high-tech, modern toilets that flush themselves. Although toilets have advanced rapidly through the centuries, few lavatory innovations are more impressive than the porta-potty.
Porta potties provide moveable washrooms to people in need when traditional toilets are out of reach. They don’t require running water, making them ideal for outdoor festivals, construction sites, and other events in barren areas. Although most people know about porta-potties, few know about their creator and history. Porta potties have a surprisingly deep history that spans back to ancient times. By the end of this article, you’ll know who invented the porta potty and how it changed the way people view bathrooms forever.
Primitive Toilets and Porta Potties: A Brief History
To understand how the porta-potty came into fruition, you need to know the history of toilets. The first example of a portable toilet comes from ancient Greece during the 6th Century B.C. Ancient Greeks used simple ceramic kettles called chamber pots that served as personal toilets. Chamber pots came in many different materials, such as tin, lead, and ceramic, but most people used clay since it was waterproof and cheap. Chamber pots got their name since many people used them in their chamber, also known as a bedroom. Bathrooms didn’t exist at the time, so people didn’t have a secluded place to handle their business.
People would relieve themselves using a chamber pot and discard the waste in a public dumping area or use it for composting. The ancient Greeks often referred to their waste as night soil since they used it as compost on their farms. It was an unsanitary farming method that went on longer than most people like to admit.
People continued using chamber pots until the 11th Century. During this time, castle architects decided to incorporate a room where people could handle their business in private. These rooms became known as garderobes and are some of the earliest examples of modern-day bathrooms.
However, functioning toilets didn’t exist until sometime during the 1500s, and running water wasn’t a thing until the 1800s. People had to clean their garderobes and dispose of their waste in selected areas. Some people let the excrement build up so that they could hang their clothing down the primitive toilet’s shaft to kill bugs and fleas using the waste’s rising ammonia. In fact, many historians believe this is how garderobes got their name.
Greeks weren’t the only ones creating innovative ways to relieve themselves. The Romans built elaborate sewer systems that would take their waste to the community cesspit. However, the Roman sewer system didn’t connect to individual outhouses. People went to a specific area and handled their business along the sewer line, allowing the system to wash away their waste and take it to the cesspit.
Despite the Romans’ sewer system’s groundbreaking nature, it wasn’t the most private or sanitary way to handle your business. The lavatory area commonly housed multiple people at one time, requiring people to relieve themselves in front of each other. Sometimes Romans would have to take care of business in front of 20 people or more.
The Romans also cleaned their rear ends with a communal sponge tied on a stick. They had to share the sponge, making the process extraordinarily unsanitary. The Romans cleaned the sponge using running water from a channel next to the sewer system. Sometimes they sanitized the sponge further by dunking it in a bucket full of vinegar and salt water.
Although the Romans used a sewer system ahead of their time, it wasn’t as sanitary as most people think.
During the 14th Century, Egyptians used primitive porta johns that worked similarly to chamber pots. They created small wooden boxes to place over pottery (the chamber pot) to make the process easier. The boxes had holes carved in them so people could relieve themselves comfortably. They were portable restrooms that helped pave the way for modern-day porta potties.
Although primitive porta-potties existed during the early 6th Century, porta johns as we know them today didn’t exist until World War II. A dock worker named George Harding worked at a shipyard in Long Beach, CA, and noticed how long it took his coworkers to visit the bathroom. It took several minutes for a person to rush to the restroom, handle their business, and come back to work. Harding created a portable washroom that he placed on the ship for the workers to use.
The early porta potties worked well but were extremely heavy due to their wood and metal structures. Their weight made them difficult to empty and move from place to place. They also absorbed the repugnant odors and were hard to sanitize. Luckily, a new and improved porta potty came along shortly after.
Fiberglass porta potties debuted a few decades later and replaced most of the heavy wood and metal porta johns. They were a vast improvement but still primitive compared to today’s standards. Although they were lighter and more portable, they still absorbed much of the revolting odors. Despite their flaws, most industries preferred fiberglass porta potties and used them through the early and mid-1970s.
Related: How Do Porta Potties Work?
Who Invented the Porta Potty as We Know It Today?
During the early 1960s, George Harding received a patent for portable restrooms made from robust plastic. Plastic porta potties revolutionized the industry when they debuted in the mid-1970s and quickly overtook fiberglass porta johns as well as the original wood and metal ones from the war era. They were easier to clean, haul around, and didn’t absorb as many foul-smelling odors.
Polyurethane porta johns made their debut in the 1980s and quickly revolutionized the industry once again. They improved upon plastic porta potties in every way and became the modern-day standard. Polyurethane porta potties also gave way to luxury portable restroom trailers, a lavish take on traditional portable restrooms.
Many modern portable restroom trailers feature running water with a flushable toilet and a working sink where people can wash their hands. Some conventional porta-potties even have ventilation and built-in sanitizer dispensers, making them more comfortable and sanitary than ever.
Many industries still use polyurethane porta potties for music festivals, construction sites, and other outdoor events. They are the preferred choice and will likely remain the best option until someone comes along and revolutionizes portable toilets once again. Porta potties have come a long way since their primitive chamber pot cousins and will likely evolve again sometime in the not-so-distant future.
Related: When Were Paper Towels Invented?
Where To Find High-Quality Porta Potties in the Placerville Area
If you need a first-class portable restroom in Placerville, CA, and the surrounding area, contact Wilkinson Portables. We specialize in premium porta potties, luxury portable restroom trailers, and professional-grade handwashing stations. Wilkinson Portables can supply you with first-rate porta potties that will make your next event or gathering better (and cleaner!) than ever.
Our portable restrooms work great for:
- Outdoor concerts
- Construction sites
If you are in the Placerville area and need a few porta-potties, visit Wilkinson Portables for top-notch portable restrooms at an affordable price. We have over 60 years of industry experience and can help you with all your porta potty needs. We have the knowledge needed to handle your next big event.