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While writing my article on 7 interesting facts about England, one of the things that surprised me about London was the abundance of pay toilets in England and the rest of Europe.

Pay Toilet in Berlin - from Wikimedia Commons

Pay Toilet in Berlin – from Wikimedia Commons

This is probably obvious to people who have spent more time in Europe, but I had not even heard of this as something that still existed. So I was surprised to learn that it was not that long ago that pay toilets were prevalent in the US as well. According to the Wall Street Journal, in 1974, there were over 50,000 pay toilets in the USA

The end of pay toilets in America

In 1970, the Committee to End Pay Toilets in America (CEPTIA) was founded by 19 year old Ira Gessler and his brother Frank in Dayton, Ohio.  Over the course of the next several years, CEPTIA engaged in a grassroots crusade to end pay toilets in America and fulfill their group’s mission statement to

“Pay toilets are an unethical infringement on basic human rights.”

Originally laws to declare pay toilets illegal could not get enough votes to pass.  A bill introduced by a California Assemblywoman “went down the drain in defeat” according to the Associate Press.  Undoubtedly, the companies that manufactured pay toilets and the locks that go on them were against such bills.  The largest such company was (and is) called Nik-o-Lok (it’s still in business today).  Estimates put the revenue from pay toilets at somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million each year ($161 million in 2014 dollars).

But CEPTIA was undeterred and eventually successful.  In 1973, Chicago became the first major municipality to ban pay toilets.  After a court challenge that upheld the law, many other cities and states followed suit.  By 1980, pay toilets in the US were all but extinct.

An interesting read on the subject is over at Pacific Standard

Had you ever used a pay toilet in the US?

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