There are some crazy toilets at the National Zoo! In the women’s bathroom (near the prairie dogs) about a quarter of the toilets have no seats. Instead they have this trough-like protuberance that you are, apparently, supposed to squat over. Why is the Smithsonian Zoo pioneering avant-garde commode design?

The bathroom fixture in question is not a toilet, it’s a female urinal, according to Gray Uhl, the director of design for toilet titan American Standard. Says Uhl, “If you can imagine plumbing in the ’30s it was…really all men. What you are seeing is a male attempt at answering the issue of making women’s public restrooms more efficient.”

The first wave of urinals failed to catch on, perhaps because of their “alien” design. “It was not a successful product for us,” Uhl notes.

American Standard attempted to bring back the female urinal in the 1950s, under the brand name “Sanistand.” The loo at the zoo is one of just a handful of surviving Sanistands, according to Michael Korby, editor-in-chief at Urinal.net. Others can be found at universities and highway rest stops.

“They were put in a lot of public places; it seems like the government was trying to promote them,” says Korby. “People today like them for novelty reasons.”

Zoo spokesperson Peper Long says that the bathroom in question was built around 1956, and the urinals are a relic, destined to be replaced with modern, water-efficient toilets within the next five years. “I have absolutely no idea why they are there,” she says. —Sadie Dingfelder

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