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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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State-of-the-Art Facilities: 1941

State-of-the-Art Facilities: 1941

Minnesota, 1941. "Complete sanitary privy properly protected to prevent flies from spreading diseases. Concrete floor slab, riser stool and building are fabricated at central yard for environmental sanitation program." View full size. Medium format safety negative by Shipman for the Farm Security Administration.

On Shorpy:
Today's Top 5

San Diego vs. Minnesota # 2

I was visiting Tucson this past June and was seriously considering relocating there. During that brief visit, I came across two very large and creepy spiders: one was in my room and was promptly dispatched under a mound of bathroom spray while the other one - a startlingly massive, flesh-colored, jointed-legged eye-popper - was covered with a stray towel and stomped. That experience got me to thinking about black widow spiders, which I'd seen in San Diego and also on a previous Tucson visit. I began wondering about the incidence of spider bites and started doing some googlin'. What I discovered surprised and alarmed me. Most reported cases of black widow spider bites in the American Southwest from the late 1800s through the early 1900s were contracted by men using outhouses. All the bites were on their genitals. It makes you wonder why nobody installed hinged seats that could be lifted and checked under. I'm thinking that Minnesota is looking pretty good from where I'm sitting right now.

Sears was best

Grandpa always used the Sears Roebuck catalogue. He said the Monkey Ward ones were too slick to do any good. He was right too.

The Outhouse

I cannot begin to tell you how I HATE outhouses. I grew up with them since I spent time with my grandparents. I especially hated them during the night, especially hot weather, when the wasps made nests there. It's hell to have to go and worry about being stung several times in the process. I was 16 when grandpa finally put the toilet in the house. God, what rejoicing there was! And I ain't lyin'. You never heard such whoopin' and hollerin' from a bunch of girls! (I had lots of cousins).

San Diego vs. Minnesota

So, on January 18, as one sits reading one's Sears Catalog and minding one's own business while performing one's business, does one want to be doing so while it is 77 degrees (oops, just went up to 78) or minus 19?

Not to mention, it is never "fly season" in San Diego, unless you are a Blue Angel.

Well, this picture cements it. I'm staying. Just when I was on the verge of returning to Minnesota where the hardy stock thrives, this picture comes along and upends the privy, so to speak.

Our farm toilet until 1972

No nostalgia here just crude sanitation ... and we used sears catalogues for paper to boot!

A subject we can all relate to

Yes, a lot of thought has gone into this outhouse, verily a modern design. But the TP in the picture is probably closer to what we in the modern day refer to as fine-grain sandpaper, or perhaps burlap. In which case I'd prefer last year's Sears.

The stink in the modern porta-potties is wholly different, though. They all smell of perfumed antiseptics, ie. evil - at least the vintage version smells honest!

TP or not TP

Indeed, that must have been a pretty fancy/rich outhouse to have TP!

I remember my grandfather telling me that when he was growing up on the farm, the outhouse was pretty far from the house and they did not have TP... they would cut strips from the evening paper or expired mail order catalogues...

Apparently only "rich" families had TP and the really rich ones even had a small oil heater in the outhouse!

I really like the design of this outhouse with the cesspool vent tube coming up behind the seat and venting on the sides, and I assume there is probably screening in the vents to stop the flies. It's a really fancy design!


Observe the toilet paper, has it really not changed at all?


Ewww ... Perhaps I'm being priggish, but why not just keep the lid closed all the time?


Funny how nothing has changed since the first outhouses. They still look the same, still feel the same, and I bet they still smell the same! I had to use one in minus-25 temps at my friend's log cabin 3 weeks ago, brrrr!

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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