Why America No Longer Has Pay Toilets

In the early 1900s, when railroads connected America’s biggest cities with rural outposts, train stations were sometimes the only place in town with modern plumbing. To keep locals from freely using the bathrooms, coin-operated locks were placed on the stall doors. From there, pay toilets sprung up in the nation’s airports, bus stations, and highway rest stops. By 1970, America had over 50,000 pay toilets — and by 1980, there were none. That’s because two brothers named Ira and Michael Gessel decided they’d had enough and, along with two friends, formed the Committee to End Pay Toilets in America. In 1973, the group made their case before a group of reporters gathered at the downtown Chicago Sheraton hotel. A month later, Mayor Richard J. Daley announced that all pay toilets would be removed from the city’s airports. Over the next few years, other states jumped on the band wagon, and by the end of the decade every American toilet was free.