Porta-potty. Porta-John. Jon. Whatever you call it, think of a world without it.

Close your eyes and imagine it.  We’ll wait.

Are you envisioning a dark dystopian apocalyptic world? No? Is that just us?  But seriously, think about the last time you were at an outdoor concert? Farmer’s Market? Festival?  And you just had to go.  What would you have done?

Okay, now open your eyes.  Glad you’re back from that nightmare?  Us too.

Thankfully, we do have the porta-potty in our lives, and you know who we have to thank for it?  This guy: 

The World’s First Portable Toilet

patent diagram portable toilets portland vancouver

Photo Source: PolyJohn.com

Okay, so this isn’t really a “guy” but this was a drawing from a patent submitted by a guy, to create the world’s first portable toilet.  The real guy’s name is George Harding.  

Harding was a lifelong entrepreneur.  He spent time in senior management with General Motors and went on to work in the US War Department as a top guy in the Department of Strategic Metals during World War II. In the 50s, he worked in the boat industry and even started an underwater photography business with Walt Disney as a partner. Then in the 1960s, Harding became interested in the growing field of plastics. It was during this time he invented the “polyethylene portable toilet” the predecessor to our modern day porta-potties.  

Harding went on to start PolyJohn Enterprises Corporation with Ed Cooper and George Hiskes using patent #3,447,167 described as a “portable toilet cabana that would be made out of a rigid plastic rather than wood or metal” (polyjohn.com).  PolyJohn is still in operation today.

To be fair, Harding was not the first guy with the idea of a portable toilet, just the first guy to introduce plastic into its construction and patent it. Some of the first portable toilets came about during World War II for use on ships. They were made of wood and metal and were extremely heavy to move and empty and were a bit stinky as well. With technological innovations such as plastics and the creation of formaldehyde based “blue-liquid” deodorizers the portable restrooms were able to “clean up their act” (see what we did there) and become lighter and better smelling over time, increasing their mobility and utility. 

Portable Restrooms Today

natural disaster portable toilet washington oregon

Today, porta-potties serve a crucial role in our economy and environment.  Consider these fun facts about the portable toilet industry:

  • 13,560 individuals are employed in the US by the portable toilet industry
  • 125 million gallons of water are saved daily by the use of portable toilets and wash stations; that’s 45 BILLION gallons a year!
  • Over 2.5 Billion people worldwide lack access to proper sanitation; portable toilets are used in developing countries to reduce illnesses caused by sanitary issues

During the COVID-19 crisis, many portable toilet companies were labeled as essential businesses, providing service to construction companies, home builders, and emergency management personnel.  

portable toilet pippa middleton wedding portland vancouver

Photo Source: Daily Mail UK

The humble portable toilet has come a long way in its 50 year history; from a smelly wooden and metal box to “luxury portaloos” fit for the sister of a [future] Queen (see photo above).  No matter how you feel about porta potties, today, they are an important part of how we keep our society clean and healthy.  

So the next time you pass a Porta-loo, johnny-on-the-spot, portable restroom. Whatever you call it. Say thanks to George Harding and the portable toilet movement for over 50 years of better sanitation, health, and a cleaner world. 

We rent portable restrooms across southwest Washington and northwest Oregon, so whether you’re in Vancouver, WA, Portland, OR, or other nearby cities.  If you need to rent a portable restroom, wash station, trailered restroom, or holding tank, contact us today so that we can give you a porta-potty quote for your project or event. 


Sources: https://www.polyjohn.com/history, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4512534/Wait-Pippa-s-luxury-PORTALOOS.html, https://www.psai.org/, https://www.johntalk.com/history-of-the-porta-potty/, https://onsiteco.com/the-history-and-future-of-porta-potties/, https://www.texasouthouse.com/news/interesting-portable-toilet-facts/