A Brief History of the Portable Toilet

written on August 19, 2019

Portable restrooms are about as common as regular restrooms these days; you can find them nearly anywhere. Weddings, corporate events, concerts, festivals, fairs—you name it, there’s probably portable facilities there. However, as little as 70 years ago that wouldn’t have been the case. In fact, porta potties are a fairly new technology that has rapidly advanced to become such an important part of society. Here is just a brief history of this invention.


World War II may have been a terrible time for humanity, but the silver lining to that dark cloud is the sheer volume of technological advancement that occurred during this period. The porta potty is just one of the inventions that’s now a common part of our daily life that got its start during this period. The need for a portable restroom arose when ship crews needed a sanitary way to use the restroom while working long shifts without returning to shore. These first toilets were constructed from wood and metal, and were a far cry from the units we see today.


The first big improvement to the modern portable restroom was the invention of the deodorizer, or the blue liquid that you commonly find in porta potties. Initially, these deodorizers were formaldehyde-based, but that’s fairly rare today since wastewater facilities often can’t handle these substances as easily. Not to mention science has shown that formaldehyde contains asbestos, which has been shown to cause health problems like mesothelioma.


In the 1960s, portable restrooms got their next big upgrade with modern materials. Companies started constructing these fixtures out of fiberglass, which made them lighter, easier to build, and much simpler to keep clean. However, fiberglass had a tendency to absorb odors, which made them almost permanently smell bad. That changed not long after when polyethylene was placed onto the market, adding odor resistance and dramatically increased durability. George Harding, the co-founder of the PolyJohn Corporation, was issued the patent and these restrooms hit the market in the 1970s.

Luxury Options & Specialization

In 1984, PolyJohn engineered the next big advancement in portable toilets when they built the first luxury restroom trailer. This trailer was a whopping 32 feet long, had eight stalls, and offered a new level of luxury and odor resistance that had never been seen before. Today, portable restrooms are further refined to the exact use you need them for. Construction restrooms are on trailers, allowing them to be easily moved to follow crews building roads. Hook restrooms have a hook installed in the roof so a crane can lift them to the upper levels of buildings. Skyscrapers even have their own form of portable restrooms, which can be folded down and fit into a construction elevator.